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Breast Cancer Survival Story . . . A very long time ago

A dear friend has granted us permission to publish her inspiring breast cancer survival story as part of  Bravo’s “Pink The Blog” for Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM). This survival story is a remarkable piece about her experience with breast cancer and how our friendship inspired and even “shaped” the development of Bravo’s breast forms. 

I have been asked to recount my experience with breast cancer with the hope that it could comfort and inspire others now faced with this health challenge so, with that intention I begin.

My story starts a very long time ago in the spring of 1987.

I was a healthy (I thought) vibrant young woman of 35. I ate healthy food and walked and swam regularly for exercise. I had just moved across the country and taken a break from my profession as a mental health therapist. I was very excited to be living in the Pacific Northwest and following the dreams my husband and I shared. So, I was really not very daunted when I found a lump in my breast and readily agreed when my gynecologist suggested just waiting a month as it was most likely one of those breast changes that sometimes come and go with periods.

You can imagine my shock when I finally had a biopsy and they found I had a large and aggressive estrogen responsive cancerous tumor and needed a mastectomy and massive chemotherapy. Remember, this was a long time ago so treatment was not as advanced or sophisticated as it is today. Surgery revealed that I had 7 positive lymph nodes. No one said anything about what stage this cancer was but they did say I had a 50 percent chance of living 5 years. They thought this was a cheerful and optimistic statistic but my 35 year old self was thinking . . . WHAAAAAT??????? In addition to the mastectomy, their plan was to have chemo every week for 6 weeks and then every other week for 6 more months. I on the other hand was planning to walk out that hospital door and not look back because . . . in my mind, I couldn’t possibly be that sick. They promised that plan of action would lead me to be a very sick woman in about a year. So, I faced the dilemma every woman with this diagnosis faces . . . allow these chemicals and what I saw as poisons into my body to save my life. At the time, I rarely even took an aspirin. I was always one to take caution with any kind of medication and would turn to natural remedies and preventative health before any prescription so it was with great trepidation that I agreed to the only thing they thought would save my life and I began the course of chemo described above.

I did not have reconstruction at the time of surgery for several reasons.

The process was not as sophisticated and seamless as it is today. The extensive chemo meant I would not be able to do it all at once. The photos I saw in the office of the “best” plastic surgeon looked like baseballs stuck in a woman’s chest (today’s results are amazing). I hated the idea of taking a prosthesis. Over time, this came with its own host of problems. One problem was that my remaining breast was quite large so it meant wearing a comparable large and heavy prosthesis even though I was average weight, built, etc. As the chemo induced menopause set in, the remaining breast grew even larger and I had to keep sizing up in prosthetics to keep up with the healthy breast even though I was not gaining anywhere else.

When I finished treatment and emerged from my chemo fog, I began inch by inch to take my life back. One of the things I began to do again was swim but the search for a prosthesis that I could wear in chlorine and contain in a suit was a challenge. I tried a lot of things that were not very successful until I had a stroke of good luck. One day, in the pool, I met a charming woman who ended up worming my cancer story out of me. It turned out she was the owner of Bravo and had all kinds of ideas about how I might solve my problems with swim forms and eventually even began to manufacture breast forms for women in my position. I couldn’t believe my good luck. What are the odds that we would be brought together?

Our friendship continued and so does my story.

After wearing the prosthesis for twenty years, I began to have serious neck and back problems that no amount of massage, chiropractic or acupuncture could fix. I realized, it was time to consider reconstruction. So, in 2007, I began about a 9 month process where my chest muscles had to be stretched over time to create space for an implant. Once again, my friend was a Godsend. She had every imaginable pad and enhancer to prop up and match the “under construction” site to my existing breast. I am sure without her help, I would have been wadding up cotton and gauze trying to make myself look passable! Her sophisticated options made all the difference in going through the reconstruction process and appearing normal to the outside world. I was and am so grateful to her for her help and support. Anyone who goes through this knows how important it is to be able to wear normal clothing and not have to hide.

Now, it is 2018 and I continue to thrive.

I cannot believe, it has been 31 years since all of this began. I have done a lot of things besides what is described above to live fully and celebrate the life I have been given. In going through this, like most people, I did a lot of soul searching about the meaning of all of this and how I would proceed with my life. One of the ideas I had was that I thought about cancer as creativity gone awry. I thought about all those cells wildly recreating without organization or service to the whole body. So, I decided, I would follow a creative path in my life to honor the creative impetus of the disease but not its form. I also decided, I would not make cancer my life or own it as “mine” but rather view it as something I went through. I have not sought to identify with cancer but rather to identify with the life force that propels us all. In that vein, I share my story, that you too might find your own creative path and honor the life force as you write and live your story. 

THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH for writing about what you went through and for giving us permission to share your breast cancer survival story with others. I’m so very glad we met at the pool all those years ago ~ and for the enduring friendship our connection sparked, then and now. — Doris

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