Survivor Stories 2014:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
Routine annual mammogram at the age of 47.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
Absolute shock. The news came through a phone call and I was seated in my home study. My physician asked if my husband could get on the other end of the line. I knew this meant bad news. I held his hand tightly while glancing at the photos of our three kids on the wall. They were too young to leave. I was petrified of cancer. There was no cancer in my family. I was the first.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
At the time of my diagnosis I was living in Florida. My obstetrician sent me to an oncologist who suggested that with my type of breast cancer, DCIS, I fly out to see Dr. Mel Silverstein in Los Angeles, who specialized in this type of breast cancer. I took his advice and made an appointment and within two weeks I was in his office. Dr. Silverstein offered me two options. The first choice was a partial mastectomy, but he said with that I would need radiation and chemotherapy. My second choice was a mastectomy that meant that I would not need radiation and chemotherapy.
I opted for the latter. When I told him I chose to have a mastectomy, he advised that I arrange the mastectomy and reconstruction at the same time so that I woke up with a breast. I was happy about this suggestion, although the type of reconstruction I had, a latissmus dorsi flap, which removed part of my back muscle to make a new breast, has left me many years later with muscle issues on my right side. I suppose that’s a small price to play for survival.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
The lack of feeling on the mastectomy side. I can no longer be sexually aroused by that nipple.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
Always get three opinions. Remember to take care of your physical and emotional self, such as through exercise, meditation, yoga, listening to meditation music. Also important is to journal your feelings.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
I have been breast cancer free for 13 years, but eight years ago I was diagnosed with multiple myeloma, a form of bone marrow cancer, which the doctors say is unrelated to my previous breast cancer diagnosis.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
That there is something to learn from all life experiences. Having a breast cancer diagnosis offered me the opportunity to feel gratitude for the good times and people in my life. I realized the importance of surrounding myself with positive people, and as much as possible removing toxic individuals from my life. I learned the importance of taking more time for myself through writing, meditation and beach walks. I also realized that the time is “now” to follow your dreams and that life is fragile. At the age of 48, I returned to graduate school and have never been happier.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
If this experience does not rivet you, nothing will. A gratifying and rewarding life involves embracing, rather than running from all the adversities and turbulences that we are faced with.
Diana Raab, Ph.D. is a memoirist, transpersonal psychologist, speaker and educator. She’s the author of 8 books including, Healing With Words: A Writer’s Cancer Journey. She inspires others to write for healing, transformation and empowerment. Her website is http://dianaraab.com.