By Sheryl De Witte
I survived something that could have killed me. I made it through with the prayers and help from my family, my friends, and my co-workers.
I was consumed by the emotions of fear and shock after receiving my diagnosis; everything moved quickly and was a blur. First were the chemo treatments, followed by a Bilateral Mastectomy and finally reconstruction. That was it; I was done: I was told “there’s no evidence of disease”. I was beyond excited and relieved, I had done it, and I had survived! It was time to get back to my life the way it was before breast cancer; everyone around me had already moved on, so why can’t I?
Every day I’m reminded that I had breast cancer. When I walk out of the shower in the morning, I can’t help but see the scars on my chest in the bathroom mirror. Scars from the port surgeries are sometimes visible to others, but the large scars that haunt me are big and only seen by me and my husband. They run from my sternum to under my arms and are intersected by another scar that goes up to where my nipples used to be. There are more scars under my arms from where the lymph nodes were removed and the drains inserted. I can’t help but remember when I first looked at myself a couple of days after surgery and how horrified I was at what I saw. I looked like something out of a horror movie. My breasts were gone and in their place I had large, angry looking incisions that had been sewn together. I had horrible bruising, drainage tubes coming out of me, and I had no nipples. Had I made the right choice? This decision truly had been mine, and I thought I was prepared, but I wasn’t.
Every day I am frustrated by an increased anxiety which I do not understand and cannot seem to get under control. It hits randomly and sometimes viciously. I get apprehensive in groups of people, or when I’m waiting for something or someone. It makes my stomach upset, so I never go anywhere without finding the nearest restroom and knowing my escape route. It limits me and makes me wish somedays that I never had to leave my house.
Every day I think about how I need to lose weight, how I should be eating only “healthy” foods and exercising. But I’m tired, my energy hasn’t fully returned. When I come home from work all I want to do is sit on the couch. I try to not drink anything out of a plastic bottle, and I no longer use regular deodorant; instead I use the natural stuff because it’s supposed to be better for me. I have no idea what caused my breast cancer; if I only knew then I would be certain to never eat or drink it again, or to never use that product anywhere.
Every day I get hot flashes. My coworkers are all cold, and many have heaters on- not me, I’ve got my fan on, and I dress like it’s summer, even in the dead of a Minnesota winter.
Every day I try to get back to where I was before breast cancer, but I can’t. You see my sister is dying from breast cancer. Her cancer came back, even though she had done everything right. She ate healthier, she exercised, and she had had Chemo, a Bilateral Mastectomy, Radiation and reconstruction. Still, it came back with a vengeance. She too had been told there was “no evidence of disease”.
I know I need to move on and not live with the fear of it coming back, but I don’t know how to do that. I hope that over time my scars and anxiety will fade, and my confidence will come back just like my hair has. In the meantime, I will do my best to carry myself like the warrior that I am. I will strive to see the best in everyone and in every situation. Most importantly, I will pray and rejoice that I have been given a second chance. I will be thankful for every day that I have been given, for every sunrise and sunset, for every bird I hear chirping, every flower I’m able to smell and for the time I spend with my family, my friends and my coworkers; because without them, I may not have made it this far.
In Oct 2015, Sheryl was diagnosed with IDC. Both of her sisters had previously had breast cancer, so it really shouldn’t have been a surprise to her, but it was. She went through chemo followed by a bilateral mastectomy, and in July of 2016, she had reconstruction. She did not need radiation as my cancer was Stage 1.