Wednesday, May 11, 2005
The First Step is the Biggest
It was one of the worst stomach flus I had ever had. Sparing the details, I will say the stomach cramps were unusually fierce. I curled up into an odd twisted fetal-type position trying to find relief. If I could just get relief long enough to fall asleep, I knew I would be better in the morning. My arm brushed up against the under side of my right breast. I stopped suddenly and rolled back over. Yep, it was there. A good sized lump. It was well defined and unmistakeable. I didn't bother to complete a full self exam at 3:00 a.m. that morning, but I reminded myself to call the doctor first thing in the morning. With that, I scrambled to find that almost comfortable position and maybe a little sleep.

That's how it began. Exactly one year ago today.

I kept my promise and called the doctor, but it took another six weeks, several tests of varying results, and a definitive lumpectomy before the diagnosis was positively confirmed. When I think of all that has happened in that time I am amazed. It seems like an eternity has passed, yet at times it feels like mere seconds. The last twelve months have been a whirlwind of treatments, operations, a rollercoaster of emotions, and a journey I will not soon forget (even if I tried).

Frankly, at this moment I am not sure how it feels to be here. Here, in my shoes, at this moment. A strange part of me feels like this was a project, albeit a tough project, that I unwilling received and now can check off my list. Something like being assigned to clean the garage. I rolled up my sleeves, did what I had to do, and now I have a clean garage to show for it and it is over. Somehow sitting here all prematurely menopausal with short spikey hair, no breasts, and ill-placed tissue expanders feels nothing like a clean garage.

A part of me recognizes that cancer made me stop and take a harsh look at life and decide what is important and what is not. It has made me change my life. I admit I was rushing through life doing doing doing and never never never stopping to enjoy the moment. Am I grateful that I have had this insight and awareness? Well, yes. Am I grateful it was cancer that brought me this great lesson? Who answers "yes" to that? Unfortunately, cancer is the gift that can keep on giving. Or not. We just don't know.

And then there is that tiny part of me that feels victorious. I got through this far in my own style, on my own terms, and I won. In cancer terms, I won. I'm here and the cancer isn't. The sacrafice was immense, but I won. Or did I? Is the battle over? Is that abdominal discomfort my ovaries? What about that cough -- is it my lungs? That pain in my leg must be bone mets, right? How long will I be looking over my shoulder? How long until I can sleep at night? This isn't what winning should feel like.

Somehow I get up each day, I thank God for giving me a new day, I put on my prosthesis, I gel the spikes into my sexy short hairdo, I smile, and I face the day. I refuse to look back. Every day I try to do some little thing to make the world a better place, whether it is to hold the hand of a friend going through chemo, or encourage someone at work, or challenge a student, or volunteer for a worthy cause, or smile at a stranger. . . I will add to the goodness in this world each day and not dwell on the sadness or be part of the madness. I don't only want to walk in the light, I want to be light to others. Not because I am a breast cancer survivor, but in spite of it. This is what it feels like to win.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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