Survivor Stories 2015:
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
In 2002 I was driving to work and for some reason I looked down at my breast and saw a little knot right at the top. It felt hard. I discounted it because when I got home that night I laid down and did a breast exam and didn’t feel anything. The next day driving to work I saw the knot and knew I had better make an appointment with my doctor.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
Of course, I had shock and disbelief. My body started shaking a little and I began to cry. I never thought I would be a victim to the dreaded “C” word. I took action immediately and I got on the phone to find information as to where to go next. They were just opening up a new cancer center in my home town. To my shock, my gynecologist in Sarasota had just gotten married and his new wife had been hired by that new cancer center to head up their radiology department so I immediately got into see an oncologist.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
I had the typical 2002 first time treatment for breast cancer. For surgery, I chose a lumpectomy as it was discussed with me by my oncologist that the survival rate for mastectomy or lumpectomy were the same. They performed the “sentinel node biopsy” where they insert radioactive dye into the tumor area and around the nipple in the belief that the radioactive dye would travel the same path that the cancer “would follow” if there was further cancer in the lymph nodes. They removed 14 of my lymph nodes and they were all negative. I also followed up with 6 chemo treatments of adriamycin / cytoxin and after that I did 34 treatments of radiation.
4. What surprised you the most about my treatment:
I didn’t know how much it burns in your underarm when they remove lymph nodes. I didn’t understand nausea and fatigue from chemo. I assume that someone explained it to me, but the side effects don’t kick in for 72 hours and every one of the treatments are worse than the other because they are accumulative.
But on the flip side of that, I didn’t know how much my family and friends loved me. My best friend at the time, was in upstate New York for the winter. I called her and she flew back to take care of me while I went through the treatments.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
My advice to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis, is to get to an oncologist right away. They will probably want to do lots of tests so they can give you their best possible opinion as to what course of action to take.
Get a second opinion. You have to put on your “big girl’s britches” and be an advocate for yourself. Ask lots and lots of questions. Write down your questions before you go to the doctor so you get all your answers. Be sure you bring someone with you because there is so much to take in and your brain will probably be in a fog anyways. If your gut tells you something is wrong, get answers. They speak a foreign language in “cancer land”. It is like going to a country in a part of the world where you have never been. Ask for help from friends and family. My spiritual adviser told me that I was not allowed to turn down any act of kindness and I heeded her advice and I saw miracle after miracle.
When my cancer returned for the third time in 2012, I was at such a low point, it was difficult to generate any positive perspective. I was devastated by my 3rd cancer diagnosis and I heard about Reimagine’s Core program through a friend and cancer survivor. I enrolled, and once I received the materials, I can honestly say my life changed for the better right then and there. I owe my “lovely” life to Reimagine.me. Reimgine.me gave me concrete tools for living fully in the presence of cancer and it gave me back hope and balance, taught me how to call on my inner strengths, how to take care of myself and how to ask for help. Reimagine.me taught me a way to love my life again.
6. How long have you been cancer free?
I don’t know if I am cancer free or not, but it doesn’t matter to me anymore. I am a survivor no matter what. My cancer came back in 2008, 2012, 2013, and they told me this past January (2015) that it had returned again.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
God or the Universe or whatever you like to call it has had a hand in my cancer (and my life) from the very beginning. Every time I thought I had been forsaken, God sent me a miracle. Even though I go through an “unnecessary” panic spell waiting for the results from the latest PET scan, God has held my hand each time. I have told my body that cancer cannot live in it any more. I am alive and happy today because of all I learned about taking care of myself and all the support I received from Reimagine’s Core Program.
Cancer, I am not scared of you and you cannot take my life way from me. If I die, you will not keep me from living until the end.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Find the joy in daily living, forgive yourself and others, love yourself and let others know you love them. Make memories with the ones you love.
Life is good if you get out of the way and let it guide you.
Elizabeth Jones was diagnosed with cancer for a third time in 2012. Already in pain and questioning whether she even wanted to live, she wondered how to move on until one of her friends came across an ad for the Reimagine Core Program pilot study conducted with the Duke Cancer Institute—and thus Elizabeth’s path began.
Her first time through the program, she used it to manage incredibly difficult side effects. She learned important foundational skills to deal with her stressors and freedom from the self-pity underlying her depression. And when she was diagnosed a fourth time with cancer, with unbearable pain and hospital treatments, she took Reimagine’s Core Program again—this time with a renewed and even more dedicated effort.
She learned to manager her stress, which also helped alleviate some of her symptoms.
She found hope, and took control over her life. She reimagined her life, and found how to get the support she needed and every day went from being stressful to being filled with miracles, small and large. Now, even in the fact of cancer, Elizabeth has hope and courage. She is alive, and happy, a small miracle all her own.