Amy Keller, age 37, Louisville, Kentucky
I was diagnosed with stage I melanoma in August 2011 when my youngest son was two months old. I had surgery to remove it that October and although the recovery was longer than anticipated, it was relatively easy and no additional treatment was necessary. So, to be honest, the fact that I had “cancer” did not really hit me until a few months after I was healed and resumed normal activity. I never mentally processed what had happened but rather attacked it like my type A self and just wanted to get rid of it and move on.
Then the biggest blow came. My boys were 1 and 3. I had a sore spot on my right breast for several weeks. (Maybe months, who pays attention?) I thought one of the kids had accidentally bruised it. When it became increasingly sore I felt it and couldn’t believe how large of a mass it was. Still not sure what to think, I went to the wellness clinic at work and asked them who I should see to exam it. The nurse at the wellness clinic immediately made an appointment for me to have a mammogram the next day. Thinking back on that day, I knew by the look on her face what she thought, although she also said what most people say: “Cancer doesn’t usually hurt.” I didn’t think much about it, so I went to the appointment alone.
The next day I had my first-ever mammogram followed by an ultrasound. I will never forget when the radiologist came into the room and said the words to me, “I believe you have breast cancer.” My whole world crumbled and even the nurse, who was a complete stranger, cried with me. After my husband met me there to drive me home, all I wanted to do was hug my boys and not let go.
For the next few days I will never forget the sense of clarity and almost peace that I felt. All that was in focus was what was important to me — my family. The week that followed was filled with doctor appointments, scans and biopsies, and every day I woke up I thought it was a dream. The next 15 months of treatment consisted of six rounds of chemo, 12 rounds of Herceptin, a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, followed by 28 rounds of radiation. Last, six months of an oral chemo.
My biggest source of hope during treatment was my two boys. They didn’t care what my hair (or lack thereof) looked like, and if I laid on the couch most of the time. Their unconditional love made me smile every day. I also found hope in the many women I met, and continue to meet, who share their stories and friendship. Lastly, my husband, family and friends, who stood by me every step of the way. This journey makes you realize how many good people are in the world who are pulling for you. It makes you want to be strong for them and show them you’re a fighter.
The hard part
The hardest part was watching what this was doing to my family — my husband, parents, grandmother, aunts — and the fear of leaving my two sons without a mother and being unable to watch them grow up. On the way home from the doctor when I was diagnosed, I cried and prayed for God to let me live and worried how to tell my family. Of course my family was devastated, but they were also the quickest to rally the positive energy and support. I was also sad to “lose” a year of watching my young sons grow up. I feel like I did lose a year, but in the scheme of things I’d do it again in a heartbeat if it meant being with them for the next 40.
My encouragement to you
My words of encouragement and advice that I share with every survivor I meet are the same:
- You are not alone. You will be amazed at the support you come across during treatment. Complete strangers will offer to help, pray and support you in any way possible. Take it. Also, there are so many mechanisms of support offered locally and nationwide. Seek out the method you prefer. Your friends and family are wonderful caregivers and supporters but you also need to talk to “your people” who understand every step of what you’re going through and can answer questions and laugh about the silly side effects.
- You’re stronger than you think you are; you CAN do this! My favorite quote is “Strength is the only option.” At both your strongest and weakest moments, push forward and know this pain is only temporary and you will see your life get back to normal.
- Ask for and accept help. People will be coming out of the woodwork to help you and they genuinely want to. Let them, whether it is a meal train, house cleaning, gift buying, party planning or house decorating. (My neighbors came to my house and decorated for Christmas, inside and out, while I lay on the couch and watched. I will never forget it.)
I am a spiritual person and believe this journey was an intended path for my life. While I haven’t figured out the entire message yet, I believe God is telling me to slow down, live life to the fullest, enjoy each and every day, and pursue my passions to make a difference in the world. It’s a big shift in my 20-year corporate life, but each day I’m making an effort to be a better person and find joy all around me. And while the journey is tough, always remember it’s temporary and you will get back to feeling yourself again … only the best version of yourself with a new perspective on life!
Lend me your hope for awhile.A time will come when I will heal, and I will lendmy renewed hope to others. ~ Eloise Cole