At my Young Survivors group last week, a woman burst into tears.  Fresh from a recurrence and a double masectomy, she was in pain and frightened.  Pain because of the type of reconstruction she had at the time of the surgery.  Frightened because it was a recurrence.

Many cancer survivors live in fear of a recurrence.  Once you’ve had breast cancer, fought it, and won, you’d think that you’d struck a major blow, and that now you would be safe from it.  But the truth is that breast cancer survivors CAN get it again — even if they’ve had both breasts removed.  Often, it’s even worse the second time, as the recurrence is actually a metastastis — meaning that the cancer has spread to other organs or to the bones where it can’t be cut out and can only be treated with chemo, hormone therapy, and/or radiation.  It’s not a diagnosis that anyone wants to hear.

In IBC patients, 90% of us will have a recurrence, typically within a few years of our first victory.

I should say something about reconstruction here.  Breast reconstruction takes many forms; survivors can choose to some extent, but typically one form or another is indicated by the type, size, and spread of the cancer, as well as the health of the person in general.  I have to admit that I’m no expert here, as I’m just learning, but the major types that I’m aware of include:

  • no reconstruction;
  • careful stitching and smoothing by a plastic surgeon, but no rebuilding or reconstruction;
  • saline implants;
  • silicone implants; or
  • use of a patient’s own muscle and skin from elsewhere in the body to form a breast.

The last one is very popular among cancer survivors, but it can be tricky, since it effectively doubles the number of surgery sites (and temporary drains) and increases healing time over the no-reconstruction option.  Skin and muscle can be taken from the belly, back, or buttocks for this surgery.

In my friend’s case, she had muscles cut from her back and pulled around and under her armpits to rebuild her breasts.  Months later, it still wasn’t comfortable, and as a result she had pain and feelings of tightness both in her new breasts and along back where the muscles came from.  As you can imagine, it was making her cranky.

She cried that night.

We rallied around her and shared our own stories — including mine, where I shared that I can’t have any reconstruction because my chance of recurrence after survival is still 90%, and the doctors want to keep the site clear for monitoring.  Any reconstruction besides the transfer of skin (which I will have to have, since mine is severely damaged and the lymph nodes are clogged with cancer) would simply get in the way of monitoring any recurrence of the cancer, or the formation of new lumps in an unrelated cancer.

She asked us how we could be so strong.

Some women shared what — or who — they’re living for. Some shared that they’re just living.  I shared something that I’ve been thinking for a long time, but I haven’t articulated it here before.  Yes, I’m living for my baby boys and my husband and my family, and for the chance to still make a difference in the world.  But when I’m really down, I think of it another way.

I could have been hit by a bus on June 16 and died instantly.  Instead, I was hit by the cancer bus — and given a chance to fight for my life.  In gratitude for that second chance, I will fight this beast, and I will survive and enjoy months or years that I wouldn’t have gotten in the other case.  Truthfully, I already have.


47 Responses to Perspective

  1. jenn says:

    You are awesome. And a HUGE inspiration!

  2. canape says:

    That was a lot of work. I’m really proud of you.

  3. Meleah says:

    Only you could find the silver lining in such an inspiring way. You constantly stop me in my tracks and bring my back to this moment. This moment where I am so lucky to have each and every day to spend with my babies and my husband living this blessed life. You are the strongest woman I know and we have never even met. Thank you for sharing your wisdom and your strength.

  4. “In gratitude for that second chance, I will fight this beast, and I will survive and enjoy months or years that I wouldn’t have gotten in the other case.”

    Yes, you will. Years and years and years.

  5. You stopped me in my tracks tonight, too. You’ve just taught me a lesson that I’ll never forget, and it applies to me, as well as everyone else, directly.

    Years and years.

  6. Dawn says:

    Bless you, S. Seriously. I mean that.

  7. […] I’ve put a link to this article here […]

  8. debra says:

    You are simply amazing.

  9. Kat says:

    Wow…what a great way to look at this. As a breast cancer survivor myself, I know sooooo well how we survivors live in fear most of the time. I’m going tomorrow for my checkup (I go to my surgeon every three months for the first two years, then every 6 months for the next 3 years). Every time I have to go, or take a blood test, or get a mammogram, the fear returns. I guess that’s natural. Thanks for your inspiration. You amaze me. You go girl!


  10. What a powerful, hopeful, inspiring way to look at it. I’m floored.

  11. clifford says:

    Bam. Well said, YM. Very much so.

  12. Joanna says:

    You are a rock to so many of us; your words are the mountains that make people stronger and better. I believe in your every word, WM. Keep on fighting, and we’ll continue to rally.

  13. KAL says:

    I am a new reader of your blog, through Stimey. You are inspiring. I can’t imagine the rollercoaster ride you’ve been on but want you to know you’re touching readers.

  14. Jessica says:

    Your perspective is truly amazing. Thank you for sharing with all of us, and helping me see things in a different way. Hugs and prayers coming your way…

  15. WorksForMom says:

    You never (ever) cease to amaze and inspire. Ever.

  16. You probably have no idea the difference you have already made. For me. And I know I speak for others.

    I am in awe.

    I truly do look at the time I have with my family differently since ‘meeting’ you. You are an inspiration and a role model to me, among many.

    Besides all that… YOU ROCK!!!! 😉


  17. mamma knows says:

    Attitude is half the battle, GO YOU!
    You are teaching us all so many things, and thank you for that 🙂

  18. You leave me in awe. Again.

    Thank you, Whymommy.

    xo CGF

  19. Jacquie says:

    Your last paragraph speaks volumes! You are amazing WM oh so amazing! Go WM Go!!

  20. Ally says:

    I am just speechless. Wishing I could give you the biggest hug. Your strength astounds and inspires me, each and every time I come to your blog. Wow.

  21. Anne says:

    Wow. I just want you to know what an incredible inspiration you are to me. You want to make a difference? Well, you have made a huge difference in my life already. I’m dealing with some scary health stuff right now… and sometimes feel down because I fear I won’t be here to see my 3-year-old grow up. But that comment you made about how you have been given a second chance to fight for your life? Well, thank you for that. What an amazing perspective!

  22. Stimey says:

    As long as I’ve known you I’ve believed that you have a very thoughtful, positive outlook on life. The fact that you are able to keep that thoughtfulness and that positivity through this is a testament to your strenth as a person. Thank you for your words. They mean a lot to me. Especially posts like this one.

  23. Robin says:

    As always, you’ve left me in tears and in awe. Keep fighting WM, keep fighting. Every moment is precious.

  24. KillerBoob says:

    well said, WhyMommy. as usual.

    even with as much as i know about IBC, i didn’t know that the reoccurance rate is SO high. living with the fear of reoccurance is a step in the recovery all it’s own.

  25. You are right. My boy was giving me such a hard time tonight and I was having a fit of the ‘why me’s’
    So I came here to get some perspective. What if he wasn’t here. I wouldn’t be half the woman I have become after having to fight so hard for him.

    You have become a hero to thousands. Truly. Got all my girls rooting for you and getting tons of emails after my post yesterday singing your praises. Told ’em to come here and tell you!

  26. ella says:

    As always you manage to find the most positive way to deal with what you are facing. And what a perfect reminder of how we should all live our lives: cherishing every moment.

  27. deb says:

    We can’t change the things that happen to us, not even the awful things like cancer, but we can change our attitude. It sounds like you already know this. I wish you well sweetie.

  28. Sandy says:

    “No one can confidently say that he will still be living tomorrow.” -Euripides

    You know…everyone dies, but not everyone truely lives. I am glad you have come to that realization as it will make your YEARS left of your LIFE so much better and more meaningful!

  29. April says:

    I’m glad to see that even in your situation; you still find reason for hope. You are an inspiration.

    Wishing you well…

  30. Hi there, I suffer from bowel cancer and have two sons. I really relate to your story and wonder whether there is anyway I can help or become involved. I realise this site focuses on breast cancer but I was only 33 when I got diagnosed, I now have secondaries in my liver and my prognosis is that I won’t survive 5 years. Anyway I would really like to chat with you, perhaps I can find yr email address (I’ll check yr site). I have not found very much support for bowel cancer in young women and a lot of breast cancer groups won’t allow me, it’s like a cancer snobbery thing going on. Anyway congrats on a great awareness effort and I look forward to speaking with you further. Take care Jen Ballantyne.

  31. ~JJ! says:

    “I could have been hit by a bus on June 16 and died instantly. Instead, I was hit by the cancer bus — and given a chance to fight for my life.”

    This is why I adore you. Perspective.

  32. Joan says:

    Love the hit by a bus example and plan to use it myself. I do feel that I got a “second chance at life” through my BC diagnosis and treatment and I am very appreciative of that.

    I have been a lurker on your blog but am rooting for you daily. You will never know how many lives you have touched.

  33. moodymama says:

    I am humbled. You are waging this battle with such grace, strength and dignity. Thank you. You are in my prayers.

  34. Ree says:

    There are a bunch of us with the gloves on, ready to help you fight. You got the whole of Team WhyMommy behind you babe.

  35. Alice C says:

    How powerful your courage is. What an amazing woman you are!

  36. Carrie says:

    You inspire me, every day, to be a better person, a better mom. You are fighting so hard and I am throwing my pom poms way up high in the air for you. Keep it up!

  37. NoRegrets says:

    I think the answer was also that you can’t be strong all the time, and she happened to pick a moment when there were other people around to not be strong in. Hang in there…

  38. CE Fogel says:

    That post was very touching, and its lesson is something I strive to remember every day of my life! On another note, is Team WhyMommy meeting somewhere special for the race on Sunday? Are we all walking together? What time are you all planning to arrive?


  39. Matt says:

    You continue to demonstrate what an amazing person you are. We need many, many years of such demonstrations. I continue to think positive hopes for you all the time.

  40. It is interesting that you write about reconstruction today. In yesterday’s Arizona Republic newspaper, there was an interesting article about the reconstruction decision. If you want to read it, it is online here.

  41. The Cancer Bus is an amazing metaphor. It just gives me the chills.

  42. christine says:

    you really inspire me woman. you really, really do.

  43. ptlawmom says:

    Wow, what a fantastic outlook!

  44. Christy says:

    You take your second chance and run WhyMommy, beat that cancer bus!

  45. S.,

    You are such a strong person and such an inspiration. I pray for you daily to win your battle with no reoccurance.


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