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Survivor Stories 2015: Terri Swain

Terri SwainSurvivor Stories 2015:
Terri Swain 

(I’m a two time breast cancer survivor with the BRCA 2 Gene. I was diagnosed at 41 and then 3 days before my 50th birthday, diagnosed again.  I lost my sister to breast cancer – she was 35 when first diagnosed and 43 when she left us.  My mom passed from Ovarian cancer at the age of 62.  So you could say I’m a Cancer Veteran, living on borrowed time.  My second time around I blogged about my experience and I thought this post was a great learning and one that I’d like to pass on to others. Life’s not perfect. We’re not perfect. Be perfectly imperfect.)

1. How did you first find out you had cancer? 

1st time – On the telephone. In a Mexican restaurant having lunch with a client/friend. There were all these crosses on the wall of that restaurant and the Charlie Brown lady from the Doctor’s office asking me if I’m sitting down and I’m afraid I have bad news – you have cancer. 2nd time – I called them on my time but I kind of knew.

2. How did you react when you heard the news? 

1st time – Total denial…although my sister was diagnosed at 35…I was 41. It should have been a no brainer. Then followed by anger. Then followed by action – gathering all the info that I could; talking to others; getting into Major Tom mode.

2nd time – I always knew it could happen – I have the BRACA gene and my sister had it 3 times, eventually passing away at 43. I was nervous but I was well versed in Cancer-speak and the ways of the Baylor Cancer center.

3. What course of treatment were you prescribed? 

1st time – lumpectomy; 6 rounds of chemo A/C/5 FU (the only drug appropriately named); 35 radiation rounds; followed up by 7 years of Tamoxifen and related drugs. Lost the hair and all dignity.

2nd time – Praise the Lord, only needed a mastectomy.

4. What most surprised you about your treatment?

Chemo was the worst. Although it’s not like they show on TV and the movies, I think in the future we are going to look back and say that it was a very barbaric treatment. Losing my hair (and I’m not a vain person) was the absolute worst. I was also surprised by the people who were by my side and the people who couldn’t handle being that close to the dark side.

5. What would your advice be to anyone who’s just received a cancer diagnosis? 

Breathe. Get information. Rally the troops. Reach out to people who have been there before you. Get a REALLY GOOD doctor – do your research. Know that many kinds of cancer are very treatable. A good attitude is great, but it’s OK to have many “F-it” days if you want.

6. How long have you been cancer free?

Cancer I – 13 years

Cancer 2 – 4 years

7. What lessons did you learn from the experience?

Life can change in an instant with a cancer diagnosis. Buy the shoes. Eat the chocolate. Travel the world. Tell people you love them – don’t wait for “When the kids grow up,” or when you retire to experience life to the fullest. Cliché, but it’s really too short for all the bullshit.

8. If you could send one message to all the Good Enough Mothers out there – what would it be?

It’s okay to put yourself first. To spend the money on your good health – to eat right, exercise…let go of all imperfections and as much stress as you can. I’m so amazed at the women who do incredible work in the world or are amazing moms, but let their own health go. You have to be an advocate for you; please do your regular exams and put yourself first on your to-do list.  I think that’s more than one message!


Terri is the founder and managing partner of The HR Consultant, a Fort Worth, TX based, human resources consulting firm specializing in Equal Employment Opportunity, Affirmative Action, and employee relations. The company was founded in 1998 and has a nationwide diverse client base. Prior to her consulting role, she had Fortune 200 human resource leadership experience in the areas of employee relations, human resource planning, and training and development. Terri began her career in human resources via government compliance as an investigator for the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC).

Terri is a two-time breast cancer survivor and passionate advocate for women facing breast cancer. She has served on the Board of Directors for the Dallas Affiliate of Susan G. Komen and has held positions of Race Chair, Survivor Chair and Board President. She has been awarded the Philanthropist of the Year by the Dallas Affiliate. She has a life partner, Pete; two wild and crazy twin boys who are 29, a trusty dog Tiva and two beautiful granddaughters 7 and 1. Terri dreams of a world for them when pink is just a color again.


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