Survivor Stories 2013:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
As I slowly opened my eyes from my first lumpectomy that removed the chili pepper shaped tumor from my right breast, my husband was holding my hand. His sad, loving gaze spoke volumes, and I just knew.
Please understand, I did not ignore the shooting pain from the middle of my right breast to under my arm for almost a year. Numerous calls to my doctor resulted in recommendations to take vitamins to help with breast pain. Interestingly enough, my yearly mammogram (since age 30 due to family history) showed nothing the year before.
I initially felt the lump, later in the year, during a self-exam….
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
Let’s keep it real – I was scared! The diagnosis seemed surreal, like watching a bad movie but I just couldn’t change the channel. My husband jumped into action, researching the best doctors, finding online support communities, and calling our family and friends. He held my hand as I transitioned from scared victim to warrior survivor. Together, we assembled an awesome team of doctors, nurses, and integrative specialists who helped us develop an aggressive treatment plan. I had no choice but to survive – my girls (then 3 and 11) needed me, my husband needed me, my parents needed me, and I needed me.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
My breast cancer was Stage 2B (estrogen, progesterone, and Her2/neu positive) and had spread to a lymph node. After four surgeries and a complete right-side mastectomy, I was prescribed five months of chemotherapy in addition to one year of Herceptin (an infused targeted cancer cell drug).
We did LOTS of research! I wanted to aggressively treat my cancer and chose to also receive 30 radiation treatments, shut down my ovaries (can you say hotflash?) so that I could take Femara (an aromatase inhibiter that blocks estrogen in the body), and participate in a clinical trial. I also alternate between a mammogram and a MRI every six months.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I was most surprised by the genuine love and support I received from family, friends, sorority sisters, and co-workers. My goodness! I get teary-eyed just thinking about the amazing people God sent to me and my family – preparing food, sitting with me, bringing me goodie bags, making me smile, and helping with our children. In particular, I remember returning to work and receiving resounding applause when I stood to share my most grateful moment. Are you kidding? I could barely talk through the tears…you never really know how much people care. Never underestimate the power of prayer!
All that and the (still) crazy side effects…. but worth every minute to survive and thrive!
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
My advice would be to lean on your faith, family, and friends…. and give yourself permission to be sad, angry, and optimistic. Then, become your biggest health advocate!
• Assemble a dynamic healthcare team, get to know them, and make sure they know you
• Do your research and ask lots of questions
• Get a second, third, or fourth opinion until the treatment feels right
• Talk to survivors
• Never ask “why me”
• Giggle ‘till it hurts!
• Go for a walk, a run, a swim – just exercise!
• Get your yoga on!
• Read a good book
• Don’t be afraid to cry – then look for the rainbow
• Wear a wig, a scarf, a hat, or nothing at all – do you!
• Believe people mean well
• Re-evaluate the food you eat and the stress you endure
• Be thankful for the wonderful you who is not defined by cancer
• Survive and THRIVE!
6. How long have you been cancer free?
I have been a cancer survivor since December 2008.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I learned to really live… I smile wider, laugh louder, hug tighter, run faster, inhale deeper, exhale slower, anger less, forgive more, listen better, and fear less. I keep my family and real friends close and don’t worry about the rest. I surround myself with positive people and reciprocate the love, joy, and good vibes they bring into my life. And, in the words of R&B soulstress India.Arie – I am NOT my hair!! (haha)
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
I know it sounds cliché, but don’t sweat the small stuff – put your faith and family first!
Strive to live and give everyday your very best, be true to yourself, nurture your mind, body, and soul, and be good to others.
Perdita Spriggs is a wife, mom, pet parent, and daughter residing in Cary, NC, but who will always feel most at home on her native Eastern Shore of Virginia. By day, she is an experienced marketing and communications specialist who informs and engages multicultural audiences. When not spending time with family and friends, she pursues her freelance writing jones. Since her diagnosis at age 38, Perdita starts her day with a green smoothie and has consciously chosen “forks over knives,” filling her plate with the natural sweet goodness of fresh, rainbow-hued fruits and veggies with occasional nitrate free, hormone-free, grass-fed, and locally raised meat on the side. You can catch her at the local Y early mornings – cardio then weights, yoga on Tuesdays and Thursdays – and drinking green tea throughout the day.