Survivor Stories 2015:
Sharolyn Krein Schroeder
1. How did you first find out you had cancer?
I went in for my annual exam and my doctor noticed a lump on my right breast. When she explained to me what she found, I knew in my heart, it would be malignant. That same day, I had an ultrasound and mammogram which confirmed that something was going on. Two days later I had a biopsy. I didn’t even have time to think; my doctors reacted very quickly. I was considered high risk since I had close family members with a history of breast cancer including my mother who died from it at the age of 48.
2. How did you react when you heard the news?
I was always the kid who had health issues while growing up. Asthma, broken bones, dyslexia, a malfunctioning thyroid which required surgery and medication resulting in hyper-activity. I was challenging, to say the least. My three other sister’s were perfectly behaved and very healthy. If anyone was to become ill, it would be me. Fact; not pity. The doctor called me on March 4, 2014 explaining that I had stage 2 ductile carcinoma (cancer) with a cell rate of level 3 (the highest) and triple negative meaning there is no obvious cause. Of course, this is considered very high risk because the doctors could not establish a specific protocol for treatment of an unknown cause. I thought I was ready for this news, however, I did wonder whether I would live through this. Watching my mother suffer for 8 years before dying caused me to wonder what my life was going to be like? I had so many questions that would be unanswered. Will I suffer a painful death like my mother? This became my biggest and most frightening question. How can I live through the pain of chemo? How long will I have? I didn’t have time for cancer and I wasn’t ready to die, yet. My teenage daughter still had behaviour issues. How would I teach her if I wasn’t here? To me, initially, this was a death sentence.
3. What course of treatment were you prescribed?
Living in the SF Bay Area, I had a good team of doctors to choose from. I wanted them to be aggressive. They needed to be. I was ready to do whatever I needed to do to improve my chances of a healthy life. After undergoing a lumpectomy, I endured 6 months of painful chemo and then 6 weeks of daily radiation. I knew I would become very weak and very sick but I was determined to get through this. I wanted it to be over as quickly as possible. My daughter was graduating from high school, my husband was retiring and we were getting ready to move to build our dream home in Sedona, AZ. I was busy. It wasn’t a good time for cancer.
4. What most surprised you about your treatment?
I became so sick from the chemo and ended up in the hospital twice, for a week each time, due to infections. I became severely anemic which resulted in several blood transfusions and I began looking forward to the healthy blood I was receiving because it gave me bursts of energy. I did not feel human and felt just plain out-right ugly and weak. It became hard to continue. My mind was not strong and I felt like I was trying to think through molasses. I knew when my chemo was over, I had to tackle radiation; another big hurdle to overcome; it all became too much. I was surprised to find that radiation tired me out more than chemo and also the sheer number of drugs that were prescribed for me. I needed help managing my medications. Chemo made me sick but the radiation was exhausting.
5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis?
I enrolled a mental heath doctor as part of my team of doctors and found I really needed her the most. I remember her explaining to me to do whatever it takes to get myself through that moment and not look past it. I remember, many times, rolling side to side on the floor over my husbands feet and crying from the pain and the situation. I’m not sure why it felt good but it did. Over time, I understood that I could get through this and once I hit radiation I was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel. My attitude changed and I saw my cancer as a bump in the road of my life, not my death. I felt empowered to move on. I also shared my story on Facebook and found so many other people who went through what I was going through. I looked forward to hearing the encouragement from others and noticed that many people were looking forward to my posts, as well. Wow, what an eye opener!
6. How long have you been cancer free?
We moved from CA to Northern AZ a few months ago and I noticed a new lump on my right breast. It was hard to find an oncologist who was accepting new patients. After begging a doctor to get me in for a mammogram and ultrasound the doctor found something was not right. Yes, another biopsy. I tried to take it day by day and had a lot going on with building our home, sending my daughter off to college and having my husband retire as well as this huge move. I found out the results of my test a couple of days ago…………. NO CANCER, only scar tissue. I have been cancer free for 10 months now.
7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?
I made it so far. I am cancer free with the help of God, my entire team of doctors, my family, close friends and a changing of attitude which views this as a lost year instead of the end. I survived cancer. I realized I can not control my next breath or heart beat but I have tremendous faith in God and it is only by His hands that I am living today. I am enjoying watching my house being built and love having my husband home. I know that my daughter is thriving at college and is having fun on her own. I am living to see my life unfold, as I imagined it.
8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?
Cancer is not racist. It does not look for a good time to attack and most important, it does not have to become your death sentence. With God and the support of others, you can overcome and live out your life. Get yourself checked and become your own health advocate. Remember, like my husband always says, How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time…
I’m Sharolyn; a 52 year old mom, wife, sister and friend. I grew up in Sacramento attending high school and college there. My husband and I were married 29 years ago and we worked hard and played harder for 11 years before our daughter was born. Prior to her birth, I worked as a Buyer for I Magnin and Macy’s and then “retired” to raise her. I was a stay-at-home mom and enjoyed living off my husband! During my pregnancy, I was diagnosed with Myotonic Dystrophy, a form of Muscular Dystrophy which has made life a bit more challenging.