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Sheila: Breathe in the darkness and exhale light

In September 1997, at the age of 56, I was diagnosed with bilateral breast cancer. At the time my tumor status was estrogen positive and HER 2 negative. Due to cystic breasts and some calcifications, my health had been monitored vigilantly. Wishful thinking led me to think that because my situation had been followed closely it would keep the cancer away.

My doctor initially recommended a mastectomy. However, after doing some research and seeking second opinions, I opted for a bilateral lumpectomy. I received chemotherapy and radiation treatments. In September 2001, a routine Pap smear test revealed that breast cancer cells were in my cervix. The recommended treatment was “wait and see.” My partner and I researched and consulted with other doctors and I decided to have a laparoscopic hysterectomy. My tumor status was now estrogen negative. In August 2005, after another routine Pap smear breast cancer cells were discovered on the walls of the vagina. I had intravaginal brachytherapy treatments, followed by several different oral chemo pills. Due to progression, I once again began intravenous chemotherapy two years ago. The basic reality is that my cancer is not progressing on a predictable, nor common, course.

It’s been a long ride and the reality of cancer is always present. Like all of us, I become anxious when I have to have a scan, or to wait for blood marker results.

I try to be as resilient as possible. I focus on the fact that I celebrated another year of life. I recently retired and hope to spend some time doing patient advocacy work. I see myself as a warrior fighting this ongoing and unpredictable illness. In my fight, I try to do as many enjoyable activities as I can. I enjoy spending time with my very supportive partner of 29 years, gardening and visiting with family and friends.

Daily, in order to keep life in perspective, I breathe in the darkness and exhale light.

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