I am a daughter, sister, educator, advocate, wife and mother. I am not made of steel but I think I have some rather resilient genes in my DNA. I had a horse fall on my right hip and leg when I was eighteen while working on a ranch. I crashed and burned on the ski slopes twice in my early forties. One of those times rendered a torn ligament and damaged rotator cuff requiring weeks of physical therapy during a time when I was both a full-time mom and teaching full-day kindergarten. I was the one-armed-teacher in a sling. I broke my tibial plateau when I was 55 crashing and burning again while riding my bike. That incident put me in a locking brace for 3 ½ months. Blah, blah, blah. Everybody has a story and I stake claim to that one. And the reason I mention this…..
So, do you think I can survive breast cancer twice? You’re damn straight I can and have. It sucked. It sucked the big one. I hated it the first time when I had barely turned 47 and I hated it even worse twelve years later at 58. But I’m still here and plan to live with purpose, passion and love for as long as I can get up each morning and plant my two feet on the ground. Thumbs up, guaranteed! I’m adamant about maintaining a healthy life style and for that reason have a clean bill of health now.
My maternal Irish grandmother lived to be 100. My grandfather, her husband, came in from the farm for lunch one day and sat down in his napping chair and died suddenly of a heart attack. She was left alone and became a widow at 59 years old. She lived in the three bedroom farm home where she raised her six children until the day she died. It was only when she was 98 that she had to lean on her family to help her through her last two years.
My paternal grandmother lived to be 92. She was once picked up by a tornado in her early twenties and carried down the street and left with broken limbs and months of recovery.
They were strong women indeed who survived a few of their own life’s traumas. I come from good stock and I’ve got a lot to look forward to.
I have traveled far, even as far as down under to Australia, twice. I have lived in eight states in the U.S. and taught and had teaching certificates in six of those states. Now you know the meaning behind my Twitter handle @6state!
All of these events have defined who I am. I have had experiences and made connections with people along the way that have made me feel more grateful, stronger, more humble and blessed beyond my wildest comprehension.
January of 2014 brought great promise. This life-long educator/teacher headed back to school after 36 long years to attain my M.Ed. in Teacher Leadership. There was the possibility of a two-year overseas assignment which made my on-line degree even more purposeful. I confirmed with a couple of my professors that they would endorse me to do international internship requirements at the city we might be living in. I was “riding the wave”, as they say.
Then April 2, 2014 happened. I went for my routine, yearly, mammography to hear those dreaded words for the second time in my life. “I see a mass and I’m highly suspicious that it is cancer.” Tears, shock, and disbelief followed. Guess that wasn’t such a “routine” mammogram after-all.
How is it that I went from point A, being a 4.0 “mature student” returning to school after three decades to point B, becoming a writer and blogger and now Founder of a nonprofit Foundation informing women and men about breast reconstruction options after mastectomy all in less than two years after my own DIEP flap breast reconstruction?
I left school to focus on my health and plan the next steps in my recovery. I took all the energy and passion that I invested in working toward my M.Ed. and used it as a catalyst to educate women and men about surviving cancer twice and making informed decisions about breast reconstruction. It all began when I volunteered to become a patient advocate for the plastic surgery group I chose to have my reconstruction with . It was a “match made in heaven”, as the saying goes.
I switched my Twitter account from educational websites to those that have to do with cancer survival, breast reconstruction and to those professionals who I could reference for evidenced based information. I realized in this journey the power of patient engagement and Social Media interaction. I began speaking to more women and men about their reconstruction options. I looked at other blogs, books and information that other women and men were writing. I began talking to everyone I met about my reconstruction journey.
The more I talked about it the easier it became for me to accept and actually embrace what I had been through. I began to realize what I could do for others. Not only that, it was empowering me, giving me energy and purpose again. I lost that in the few months after my diagnosis and mastectomy with all its ups and downs, twists and turns, scans, tumor markers and tests.
So here I am. A blogger, a writer, an advocate, Founder of a nonprofit, and more importantly embracing what I have done with passion all my life, educate. When the ship is going down you go down with it or jump off, start swimming and realign your compass. I’m glad my compass was realigned, albeit the hard way. Let me know what I can do to make your Journey easier.