Just one year. It’s the difference between being a cancer patient and a cancer survivor.

Just one year. It’s the difference between being a cancer patient and a cancer survivor. Photo of Debbie Seidel.In August 2008, during my routine self-breast exam I felt something on my left breast that wasn’t there the previous month. I got my period shortly after and the lump went away. In September, the mass was back, but this time it didn’t go away. I went to my OB/GYN to confirm what I found.

In October, I was referred to the Norma J. Vinger Center for Breast Care for further evaluation. A mammogram, ultrasound and biopsy were done, and I was diagnosed with Grade 3 invasive ductal carcinoma with node positive. My journey began!

I became my own advocate. I talked with people who had breast cancer. They then became my mentors, my confidants, my friends. I had so many questions. For example, is this hereditary? So, I met with a geneticist. I needed to know for my family. The genetic testing was negative!

I also needed to know: lumpectomy or mastectomy? What about reconstructive surgery? Will I need chemotherapy and radiation? I had an MRI to better characterize the lesion. Based on the MRI findings, a lumpectomy was no longer an option and I would need a mastectomy with radiation and chemotherapy. I dreaded the chemo. I didn’t want to lose my hair or be sick.

On Dec. 1, I underwent a bilateral mastectomy and reconstruction. About six weeks later, chemotherapy began. My hair started falling out after my second treatment. I called my friend and told her it was time…she came over and shaved off my hair. Empower yourself, use humor and stay positive! By April, chemotherapy was over. I did it. I survived chemo! It wasn’t as scary as I thought it would be. 

Then radiation therapy began—nearly every day for 33 days. I didn’t like radiation but I kept telling myself, “I can do this and I will succeed!” And I did!

I used my CaringBridge site to keep friends and family posted, through the ups and the downs. On days that I was feeling down, I would read the guestbook and the encouraging words from my family, friends and coworkers. It gave me strength and courage to know that I wasn’t alone. I did it!

I’m no longer a cancer patient. I am a one-year cancer survivor!

Debbie Seidel
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