As hard as the fight must be to beat breast cancer, one mother has chosen to "be a survivor, not a victim," for herself and her family -- all while keeping the sense of humor she is well known for. Read the story of Stephani J., a courageous mother, sister and wife who discovered that life does not stop once you are diagnosed with breast cancer.
According to Hoag Hospital, breast cancer is one of the most common types of cancer that occurs in women. "If found and treated early while localized in the breast, the five-year survival rate is over 90 percent."
Putting it in Perspective
Stephanie J. from Costa Mesa, California is a dedicated worker, a good friend, a sister, a wife, and a mother. Hearing the news on May 30, 2008 that her tests came back positive for breast cancer left her mind reeling about the journey that lay ahead. But, "I refuse to let this cancer define who I am. It is something that is happening to me, that's all," reassures Stephanie. And, to support her position, she even sported a shirt that read, "Stupid Cancer," flavored with her silly humor and her refusal to let Breast Cancer bring her down.
History Repeating Itself
Two years prior, Stephanie had experienced a breast infection, but after a round of antibiotics, a mammogram, and an ultrasound which came back negative, the infection was given the all clear. All was well until a second breast infection appeared in the same area about two months prior to her diagnosis, which brought on the same round of treatment and tests, this time accompanied with a fine needle biopsy. With an inconclusive result and the infection seemingly healed, Stephanie was given a follow-up ultrasound. Five "nodules" were identified as suspicious, two of which a core needle biopsy was performed.
When both sites came back as Invasive Ductal Carcinoma, Stephanie was scheduled for a bilateral mastectomy in June 2008, in which both breasts were scheduled to be removed.
"One of the most difficult moments was when I was diagnosed and I was worried about how it was going to affect my three-and-a-half-year-old son. I had a really hard time struggling with the concern." After speaking with a therapist, Stephanie was reassured that the plans she and her husband were making about post-op treatment were just an extension of his normal routine, which helped subdue some of the stress she was feeling.
"At his age, he doesn't really comprehend it as much. In some ways it's a lot better. He puts it in his own perspective, as "Mommy's sick." What's important at this age is to give him every single piece of information he asks for, allow him to process it on his own, and most importantly, not to force him how to deal with it. My job is to be here to help manage it," says Stephanie.
Laughter is the Best Medicine
To help thank the strong circle of support she had been receiving and to share the positive attitude she is carrying with her pre-surgery, Stephanie used her love of humor to threw herself a "Ta ta to the tat as" party. It was an upbeat affair, adorned with appropriately-shaped cakes and cupcakes and supporting the fight against breast cancer.
After a successful surgery, it was determined that she would receive Chemo every three weeks for four and a half to five months, which she began in July. Now approaching the end of her Chemo treatments, she will begin radiation treatment, five days a week for three weeks.
As Stephanie can tell you, Chemo is no walk in the park. But, the loving support from her husband, family, friends, and work, and the sweet gestures from her now four-year-old son help her keep her spirits up and her humor strong.
"He knows I have ups and downs, when Mommy is sick and when Mommy is okay. Asks me, "How can I make you feel better?" and does something sweet." Although it is rough on Stephanie seeing how her post-surgery and Chemo was rough on him, she acknowledges that, "he's been handling it pretty well. We've been handling it all okay because we're handling it as a family unit, and it helps that [my son is] younger."
Stephanie returned to work in mid-August 2008, where her circle of support was stronger than ever. Her boss is a cancer survivor, and just two years ago, Stephanie supported her boss through the entire process at that time. "When I was diagnosed, I knew I was in a supportive environment, knew a little bit of what to expect, and had a strong example and a great source of advice to follow," shares Stephanie.
Some people take for granted the decision whether or not to have more biological children, but with Breast Cancer survivors, the decision is made for them. The risk is very high that pregnancy can cause the cancer to return, but the option to expand their family is not a closed case. Stephanie adds, "I was adopted, so we are very open to the option, but for now, we have peace of mind knowing our family will remain a family of three."
As Stephanie begins her radiation treatment, she continues to use her strong spirit and great sense of humor to help her remain another one of the more than 2.3 million women in the U.S. who have survived breast cancer or are living with breast cancer today, according to the National Cancer Institute's research for 2007. Although Breast Cancer is no laughing matter, if you or someone you know is facing the fight, take a look through Stephanie's perspective and come up with a list of your own 20 positive things that you can find about Cancer…it may just be the little light-hearted lift you needed.