When I received the biopsy results for the lump in my breast late one Friday afternoon, I sat calmly, no tears, and, really, no immediate fear. I trusted the radiologist who gave me the news and could feel her compassion and support through the telephone.She had been a consummate professional who described everything she was about to do when she met with me three days before, explaining why she preferred doing a core biopsy instead of the fine-needle aspiration she had at first suggested after reviewing my mammogram and ultrasound films.I understood and agreed with her, encouraged that she was being thorough and had my best interests in mind. She was among the first of the outstanding medical professionals I would encounter during the journey upon which I was about to embark.Before she gave me the news, she asked if I was alone and did I want to come into her office for the results. I said, yes, I was alone, and, no, I did not need to go into her office. She honored me with a straightforward answer that the biopsy showed cancer. When I asked what happens next, she explained the steps moving forward.
As I said: no tears, no fear—then.
I approached my cancer diagnosis as another project or challenge that needed to be examined, analyzed, planned, and worked through to completion. Immediately, I had people to notify and appointments to make. I would have to notify my children, my boss and my staff and make arrangements for projects in my department to be covered while I went through whatever treatments lay ahead. I started a 3-ring binder to gather information and record the steps in my new “project.” Survey the problem, analyze potential solutions, develop plan, execute.
Surgery to remove the tumor included an examination of the cancer cells and surrounding tissue, which revealed that the cancer had spread from its original site.My surgeon at Kaiser Permanente put together an excellent team of specialists and the work began.When I met with my medical oncologist to begin chemotherapy, he said, “Our job is to kill the cancer before it kills you…are you in?”With a resounding “yes,” I asked what comes next. He said that I was an important part of the team and that I had to do my part of the work. He was serious and so was I.
After four months of chemo, I started six weeks of radiation treatments. Again, a team effort. I was onboard 100% and soldiered on through the plan my team had set up.
Six months after surgery I was “on the mend,” my hair was growing back, and I was planning my return to a very busy work schedule.
My treatments were complete; no more daily or weekly visits to a clinic, lab or pharmacy. I started on an oral prescription aimed at blocking the growth of breast cancers that need estrogen to grow because my cancer is estrogen-receptor positive.My “plan” now consisted of taking that prescription daily for the next ten years and getting an annual check-up.
About a month later, back at work and suffering through debilitating fatigue, a new reality sank in. My breast cancer “project” seemed to be over; my team had dispersed to help others. But I was not okay.There was none of the after-project satisfaction and feeling of achievement I had experienced all my life. I seemed to be at sea without a lifeboat.I didn’t know what I didn’t know.That is, I didn’t realize the emotional toll this cancer project had exacted from me. I was struck down in ways I did not understand. My confidence in most things diminished. My hitherto enthusiastic approach to life and trust in “better things to come” had gone away. For the first time, I felt alone.
Then, THEN the tears came. And fear. Fear like I had not felt before. I felt fragile, but not the kind that strength training in a gym would help. I had not felt this way before. I knew I needed help, but where to find it?
The answer came from Dr. Ernie Bodai about a month later. When I met with him as a final appointment to wrap up my treatment, I asked “what now?” He handed me a brochure for Wellness Within and suggested I might benefit from what I found there.
What I found, from the very first day I walked in the front door, was a new home.A home where everyone knows how I feel without me having to explain things that I don’t understand.I found yoga and meditation classes that calmed my anxiety and fed my spirit. I found nutrition classes that explained how food can heal or disrupt healing.I found art and nature classes that took me out of myself and into serenity. Through Wellness Within’s classes I learned how to continue to carry on; how to frame my life for better mental and physical health. The loving kindness and camaraderie from fellow cancer patients, caregivers and staff was a gift.
I cannot express how grateful I am to everyone at Wellness Within for filling the gap that was left when my formal medical treatments ended. My doctors saved my life; Wellness Within saved my spirit and restored my soul.