By Traci Ramirez
My normal morning suddenly became life-changing for me. I found a lump in my left breast and noticed that I also had a nipple retraction. I called my sister, Sharon, and told her that I believed I may have breast cancer. Later at work, I used my lunch break to go to see my doctor, who, confirmed my suspicion.
I’m a specialist with CDC’s National Center for Health Statistics in Maryland, and dealing with statistics is my job. However, this time statistics became personal for me. I was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 22, 2012, at just 46 years old. I’m happy to say that was three years ago. Now, I’m in the category of cancer survivor, and I’m determined to stay cancer-free.
It hasn’t been easy. I’ve gone through bouts of fear, anxiety, and disappointment on my way back to wellness. I was so scared. I was horrified, and when I found out that several of the cancer treatments would not work for me, I was devastated. Waiting between treatments was very hard too, knowing the cancer was still in my body. Chemotherapy was horrible. So, during treatment, all I could think about was getting through it. Then, after that was over, my focus was on recurrence and possibly getting cancer in my other breast.
As a cancer survivor, I sometimes have mixed feelings about my future. People say, “Oh, no one dies from breast cancer anymore,” but I know that’s far from the truth! Also, I will have to take medication for seven more years. I have many challenges being on the medication, but I feel it is important to follow doctors’ orders.
On the other hand, I have been able to regain my happy life. My diagnosis has given me a greater appreciation for life. Survivorship has made me different in many ways, physically and emotionally. For me the key for dealing with these challenges and changes is to remain confident that this too shall pass. I do my best to be positive and to embrace the loving support of my family.
I feel that life is very precious, and I am grateful for every day I am given. So, I try to think about how I am blessed, and that I have made it now 3 years. Thank God that I have a wonderful support system in Tony, my husband of 29 years; two children, Elizabeth, 19, and Diego, 22; and Sharon, my awesome sister who is by my side day in and out. My family is very supportive in any way I need them to be. Thank God, too, for my wonderful and understanding supervisors and coworkers at my job. Their support for me is amazing. And of course, finding a good team of doctors is very important. I’m fortunate that my health insurance has been very good.
I’ve learned to laugh in the midst of my journey. Surviving cancer and losing my hair has been a very hard thing for me! When my hair started coming out, I immediately went to my hair salon and had it shaved off. As I am sitting in the chair laughing because seeing myself bald reminded me of my brother, I see my sister is crying. I said, “Don’t cry, it’s only hair!” Looking back know, I am able to say hair is only hair. It doesn’t make me who I am. Still, I’m very happy that finally my hair grew back.
Honestly, being a cancer survivor has been both educational and horrific! Still, I do feel blessed by all the love and support and the quality of medical care that I have received.