When I was a kid my mom gave me the newly invented, "Unbreakable Comb." I broke it. She wouldn't let me play with jigsaw puzzles anymore because I would get out her manicure scissors and cut the pieces so they would "fit." I had a piano teacher who told me that I could never, ever learn how to play the Bach Sonata that was in the back of my sheet music book. In the seven days I had until my next lesson, I practiced every day until I learned it. Then my mom fired him.
Maybe it was the challenge. Maybe I am just not the type of person who you can say, "you can't do this" to. And when it comes to life and death, well, telling me that I have a 20 percent chance of surviving five years because I have the "bad" breast cancer, the one that doctors just can't beat, is just the motivation I needed.
He turned to me, handed me a booklet with stats in it, and said, "Let me tell you about your cancer." And so it began. Just like those jigsaw puzzles, I got out my manicure scissors and cut my pathology report until if fit me, not the other way around. And like that Bach Sonata, I learned everything I needed to know to fight my cancer... and then some. I was not accepting the death sentence I was being given because my cancer was "triple negative." I found research studies in obscure labs and read up on what they were doing and then backed that up with the science behind the theory.
In the beginning I thought my life was over. Because they told me it was. Then the shock wore off and the real me took over. I wrote two books. Started a Foundation that fights for every woman after me who heard those same words I did. What do I tell them? FIGHT. LEARN. LIVE.
Fire your doctor, if you have to, and find one who is shooting for nothing short of a cure. Then do everything he tells you to.
Cancer even made a reappearance 6 years later. I beat that back with a stick until it was dead. In all, I have done over 8 different types of chemo, radiation, surgery after surgery and still fight every day by eating the right things and exercising. I have actually had people say, that I "didn't have cancer, how could I have? I look so, um, normal" How utterly lovely! Thank you!
That's the point. I had it. I have not become it. I am not the world's designated cancer patient. I am a sister, daughter, friend and lover who had a disease once.
I was diagnosed a few days before the World Trade Center was attacked. Those buildings, in all this time, have still not been rebuilt. But I have.
I am lucky as hell. And because of this luck, and the grace that has been inexplicably given to me, my life has changed. I don't accept this gift lightly. I try to pay it back every day by helping as many women as I can. Even if just the fact of me being a nine year survivor helps one woman through the night, it is a gift to me - because I am alive to give it to her.
I still don't take the word "no" easily. I still fight for justice. I still don't play by all the rules, ( driving myself to all my appointments, chemos and even some surgeries; leaving the hospital less than 12 hours after my bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction because of my extreme dislike of hospital ick... you know, those rules.)
When I tell a newly diagnosed woman, "You can do this..." I REALLY MEAN IT.
September 6th. Nine years. My new birthday. Keeping with my tradition I do every year, I will send up 10 balloons from my beach. One for each year of survival, and one for my dearest sisters who did not make it. That is another quirk of mine. As long as I am alive, no one will ever be forgotten.
To the US Task Force who announced a year ago that women do not need baseline screening until the age of 50 and then only every other year: This nine year breast cancer survivor is here because I was screened at age 35. And, even though people think we may be small potatoes now, my Foundation's Before Forty Initiative is going to save the lives of young women across the world by the time we are done building it. We will crush your screening guideline death sentence. Oh yes, I am aware - people have told me I could never go against the US Task Force or the ACS, and all the other organizations that tell women to wait until the age of forty.
Thanks for the challenge guys. I just happen to love proving people wrong.
To everyone my sisters in this fight, thank you. You know what you mean to me. I love you. And let the party start on October 7th when we celebrate Survival- not a disease.
What tomorrow will bring? I have no idea. But right now, I'm alright.