I can’t imagine that there are many words more damaging to a woman’s self-worth than to be told: “I’m sorry. You have breast cancer.” The indignity. The self-blame. The fear. The isolation. The choices. What a terrible disease.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. For those of us who have had to face the challenge directly or standing by the side of the ones we love, Breast Cancer (BC) is a beast that must be slain. It devours cells, it demoralizes its victims, and it destroys lives. The faces of its victims are always strong, resolute, and of-course, tinged with fear. For those of us who fight in the background as supporters, for that is all that we can do, we also put on a brave face. However, behind all of that, there is also fear. Courage resides within our hearts, and it is there we must go to find the strength to challenge this monster.

Several years ago, I came face to face with BC. In 1998, Joyce Casson, a client, and one of my best friends, phoned me to tell me that this obscene monster with its many faces was living inside of her breast. Both physically and mentally, Joyce is one of the toughest women I know. Though, through her voice, I could feel the fear. But also the anger, and the determination. I told her then, what anyone in my position would say: “There is one winner in this. And, I will not lose you”.

This is Joyce Casson’ story.

November 30th, 1998.
I had a routine mammogram in early November of 1998. While waiting to see if my X-rays were ok, the nurse (had) asked me to come back (to the examination room), she needed to take more images. I knew (then) that something was not right. I called my doctor a few days later to see if she could get my results. I was concerned.

The mammogram showed calcifications of the breast. (Breast calcifications are common on mammograms and they’re especially prevalent after menopause. Certain patterns of calcifications – such as tight clusters with irregular shapes – may indicate breast cancer. – Mayo Clinic). Calcifications are rarely cancer, but my doctor wanted to do a biopsy. My biopsy was (scheduled on) November 18th. I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer on November 30th.

I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was a beautiful fall day, my husband had come with me for my appointment, and I was the last (scheduled) appointment of the day. The appointment seemed to take forever, and my husband had began thinking the worst before I even told him. His comment: “Cut the fucking thing off. I want you to live.” We walked home in silence.

I had (chosen) to only tell a few people about the biopsy, and had a few calls to make. I (can) remember (making) two phone calls. My daughter was (attending) the University of Western Ontario, (and in the midst of) studying for her exams. She was actually the one who called me, and I broke the news to her. Her strength was incredible. She came home that very weekend, and we spent the day at the library, studying my options: Mastectomy V.S. Lumpectomy; Radiation or Chemotherapy?

My son was 18 (years old), at the time, and could not handle the (news of) the diagnosis.

I had also called a good friend of mine, and told him the news. He said: “There is only one winner in this. And, I will not lose you.”

My surgery was schedule for December 14th, 1998. I had decided on (having) the Mastectomy. (Which, was) a good decision, as pathology report had (revealed) pre-cancerous cells in other parts of the breast.

(My) surgery went very well. (On) December 21st, I had found out that the Cancer had not metastasized (spread to other sites in the body by metastasis). My daughter (had) come with me to my (post-op) appointment, as my husband was out of town. My tumour was small, only 4.5 millimeters; but, it was a high-grade cancer (undifferentiated).

I had more homework to do: Did I need any adjuvant treatment? (So that I could make the best decision possible), I interviewed one radiologist, and two oncologists. The radiologist (suggested that) because I had (opted) for the Mastectomy, (his opinion was that) there was no need for chemo or radiation. The first oncologist (that) I had interviewed, (suggested that) because of the high-grade cancer, maybe I did need chemotherapy, he could not say for sure. (Cancer is graded on a scale of 1 to 3. Mine, was (rated) 3.)

The second oncologist that I had interviewed, asked me this question: “What if the cancer came back, and you didn’t do the chemo?” I thought to myself: I wouldn’t have said, “I should have done it”.

My life expectancy was already very good. Did I want to do the chemo? My thoughts were: “I wanted to see my children marry, and I wanted to live to see my grandchildren.”

I began my chemo (treatments) in March of 1999, and finished in August (of the same year). I had an easy cocktail, and was able to continue my daily routine. Going to the gym was my escape away from the Cancer. I continued my weight training and cardio. I was feeling great, and asked the oncologist if the chemo was (actually) working? I did not lose any hair, and felt relatively well. She had suspected (that) it was (due to) my positive attitude. To be negative was not an option. I am confident (that) it (my positive outcome), had a lot to do with my supportive husband, family and friends.

About 1 1/2 years after my first Mastectomy, I (I took the decision) to remove my other breast and have reconstructive surgery. I was tired of having benign lumps aspurated, and did not need the worry of another Cancer diagnosis.

On November 30th, it will be fifteen years since my initial diagnosis, I was forty four years old, at the time. (Since then), I have lived to see my daughter get married and have been blessed with two beautiful grandchildren. My son, while not yet married, has grown to become a fine young man.

It is great to be alive! (The only advice that I can give is), don’t sweat the small stuff. And, live for today.

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