Survivor Stories 2013:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I found the lump not long after a visit to my gynecologist who performed a breast exam and found nothing. My mammograms were always normal. Over my morning coffee, I watched a segment on a TV news show. They were showing a new breast exam technique called “ribbon.” I went upstairs to shower and immediately found the pea sized lump!
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I was shocked, but remained calm over that weekend until I went to my gynecologist, who didn’t think it was anything to worry about. However, he urged me to go for my mammogram (a month earlier than scheduled) as well as an ultrasound. Instead of making a phone call, I went directly to the imaging center and they told me that I would have to wait six weeks for an appointment. I started to make a big stink about how wrong it is to make someone wait so long since it possibly could be an aggressive cancer. I eventually broke down and cried, which is not my nature. I am a September 11 widow and have already been through so much in my life. The office manager had a change of heart after seeing the reaction of the patients in the waiting room. They were all yelling at the office staff on my behalf. The office manager arranged for me to go to their main facility in another town where the mammogram and ultrasound were done that day. I just had to patiently wait several hours, which was fine. The radiologist told me on the spot that the test results were suspicious for cancer. It pays to be assertive.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I was given a lumpectomy, six rounds of chemo, five weeks of radiation, and five years of Tamoxifen and eventually Arimidex.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I couldn’t believe how destructive chemo is to the body. The exhaustion, and the chemo-mind-numbing brain function. I was unable to focus on a book or a movie and struggled to work a full day. Just making dinner was a challenge. Losing my hair was very minor, in the scheme of things. It was like I lost nine months of my life.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
- Do your research to acquire the best doctors you can surround yourself with. Trust them and don’t worry about being in control of your treatment. Just stay organized by keeping all of your paperwork, especially lab reports and films in one place. Ask questions even if they seem silly.
- Stay off of the Internet.
- Don’t compare your treatment with others that are going through it. Every diagnosis is different and there are different approaches. Stress has a far greater adverse impact on your body.
- Don’t cover your diagnosis from your kids (I have three sons who were 14, 12 and 9 at the time). They are smart and will sense what may be going on. They will be scared. I saw my cousin make this mistake. She eventually had to tell them anyway. It is best to show your resiliency. It will make a huge impact on them to overcome their challenges in the future.
- Most importantly, make changes with better choices in food, non-toxic cleaning products, non-toxic cosmetics and skin care. Do your due diligence. One place to start: the book, Little Changes by Kristi Marsh. Empower yourself with knowledge.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
Live! Instead of saying to someone, “Oh, we have to get together,” make the date right then and there. Be proactive. If you want to have an experience like a vacation or see a movie, get it done. It doesn’t have to be a first class vacation. The experience is about going and seeing, not how fancy your hotel room is. It’s okay to sacrifice expensive material things like fancy clothing and expensive handbags; those are just things. Face your fears and embrace those experiences. Those are the things that really make us happy, especially when those experiences include our loved ones.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Take good care of your body. Feed it good, quality food. Greatly reduce the amount of sugar. It is a drug. The more you have, the more carbs you will crave. Get yourself off that vicious cycle. This is coming from a woman who has a serious sweet tooth.
Go to the gym or get walking. Push yourself and your body will keep you strong. That strength will enable you to keep yourself healthy. Most of us are so wrapped up in taking care of everyone else. Be smart; take care of yourself first so you can be the loving and giving person you really are.
Meryl Marshall is an owner of an all-natural cosmetics company called Christopher Drummond Beauty. She originally worked as a gemologist in the diamond and jewelry industry for 20 years. She attended Brooklyn College and the Gemological Institute of America. Meryl is a cancer survivor as well as a September 11 widow, and she is an advocate for awareness and support to others going through similar life-changing experiences, as well as promoter of a healthier lifestyle. Meryl is currently a board member of the New Jersey 9/11 Memorial Foundation, as well as national spokesperson for Patriot Day 5k. She lives in Central New Jersey with her husband, Craig, and her three sons Corbin, Jared, and Jason.