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I went to see my doctor in early August 2011, because my right arm and right side of my chest suddenly felt numb and stiff. I had just switched to a new NSAID for arthritis and thought that the stiffness might be a side effect. I learned from my doctor that the feelings were actually due to enlarged lymph nodes. Subsequent biopsies of the nodes showed that I had breast cancer.

My initial reactions to receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer were shock and panic. I felt stupid. I wondered how I could have breast cancer: after all, no one in my family had ever had it. I thought I had done everything right - never had HRT, was on the pill for only a few years and had stayed physically active and at a good weight for most of my life.

My doctor was also shocked - she had been sure that she had recommended getting a mammogram in August of 2010 to check out an area of thickness in my breast. I have absolutely no memory of her telling me that. I had so much on my mind at the time that scheduling a mammogram was not high on my priority list. I had been focused on my partner's health. He had been hospitalized for two months dealing with peripheral artery disease and I just forgot to take care of myself. His release meant a long period of recuperation and significant changes in the organization of our home and lives.

I didn't truly panic though, until a few weeks later, when I learned that I had stage IV disease. Fortunately, my sister was with me and together with my great oncologist, helped me see the situation in a more positive light.

I still panic regularly. When I do, I go through my "mantra" - I remind myself that significant progress has been made in the treatment of metastatic disease. This helps me focus less on the pessimistic statistics. I also find that maintaining my activities helps me cope. I work as a physics and math tutor at a college in Maryland. Crocheting, reading, and working with a local animal rescue group keep me active and engaged in life. I joined a gym. I try to get more sleep and take the best care of myself that I can. I am moving forward with hope and resolve.


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