Your Shared Cancer Stories
Cathy E. State,
Age 50-59, Connecticut
A Bond never to be Broken
My Dad and I were very close. We had and still have a very strong bond. He was a kind, generous man who would do anything for anyone. What a sense of humor! We would laugh and joke all the time. I miss those times and how I miss him. Although he is no longer here, my story will reveal how he is still with me.
My Dad was not feeling well for quite awhile so I decided to take charge of his care. After many doctors, specialists, tests and hospital visits we were told on April 5, 2006 that he had primary liver cancer. Unfortunately there was no treatment available because the cancer had metastasized throughout his liver. It was one of the hardest obstacles my family and I had to face. We were able to keep him home and comfortable with the wonderful care of Hospice at Home. We were also able to give him the gift of love right until the very end. In his final weeks he showed our family how brave and strong he was. And although he was in his last days, he still had his crazy sense of humor which always made us laugh.
So many times I thought - what will my life be without him? I couldn’t bear those thoughts for it was too painful. I wanted so badly to save him from this horrible disease called “cancer.” But it wasn’t meant to be. He died on April 24, 2006 – less than three weeks after he was diagnosed – with his loving family by his side. A week before he died my Dad and I had a conversation where he thanked me for everything that I had done for him and he told me that someday I hope I can help you. I now understand those words.
When my Dad passed away he had four pieces of jewelry that he wore every day. We all thought it would be nice if each one of us (four siblings) was given a piece.
My sister was given his ring and my younger brother received his gold bracelet. My older brother was supposed to get his watch but it wasn’t working so he received the gold chain upon which hung a gold cross. I kept the cross and knew it would be close to my heart. Little did I know that it would save my life.
In September 2006 I went for my physical and in October I went for my yearly mammogram. The results from the mammogram came back negative. In late October I was getting dressed and the cross somehow got stuck in my bra. When I went to pull it out I felt a lump in my right breast. My first thoughts were, “Dad are you trying to tell me something.” The next day I called the doctor and I was sent for an ultrasound. It showed a mass. Then I proceeded to have a biopsy and on November 17, 2006 it was confirmed that I had breast cancer. I thought this can’t be me. It can’t be breast cancer. I had a mammogram and it came back negative. How is this possible?
Once I got over the shock, I told my family. It was very difficult for them because we just lost my Dad seven months ago. But I was determined to fight this battle and win.
I decided to have my left breast checked to make sure everything was alright. I then went for an ultrasound and it showed benign cysts. I had to make a difficult decision. Do I choose to have a mastectomy of my right breast or do I choose to have a bilateral mastectomy? Well that decision was much easier than I thought it would be. About a week after I found out that I had breast cancer, I woke up one morning and felt discomfort on my chest. I told my husband I had some pain and when I lifted up my shirt I had indentations of my Dad’s cross above both of my breasts. The decision was made that I would remove both breasts. I chose to have a bilateral mastectomy with no hesitation because I believe that my Dad gave me a sign and I followed it with no regrets. I also chose not to have reconstruction. It is a very personal choice for every woman and for me I felt very comfortable with this decision.
I had the surgery done on December 19, 2006 by Dr. Barbara Ward who is a remarkable surgeon. I call her the “Guardian Angel” to all women. When going in for surgery I made sure I wore pink lipstick in honor of all women with breast cancer. I came home from the hospital on December 21, 2006. The love and support from family, friends and even strangers touched my heart. The flowers, gifts, cards and dinners I received were beyond words.
Then on December 22, 2006 I received a phone call from Santa Claus at the Long Hill Fire Department in Trumbull, CT. He said I have something here for you. My response was that you must have the wrong number. I’m not a kid but he said, “no we have the right number and we will be at your house shortly.” My husband and Mom were with me but my daughter was at a friend’s house so unfortunately she was not able to see the most wonderful sight. A fire truck decorated with Christmas lights and decorations arrived at my door and I was given a beautiful flower arrangement. Santa Claus said “Merry Christmas” and there was not a dry eye in the house. How I wish my daughter was able to witness the kindness of this person who decided to make my Christmas so special. When I asked who this kind person was, they said they did not know. I guess they wanted to keep it a surprise. As they left I looked out of the window with tears rolling down my cheeks and saw Santa waving goodbye to me. Inst!
My Mom was staying with us during my recovery. She has been so supportive and helpful. She just lost our Dad seven months ago to cancer and now her daughter faced the same disease. My determination became even stronger to beat this disease. I didn’t want my Mom and family to endure more pain. I am so blessed to have such a wonderful family that I became even stronger to fight for my life. I have a wonderful husband, daughter and family who needs me as I need them. My job on earth is not done. I want to see my daughter go through the cycles of her life. She is my pride and joy.
I started chemotherapy on January 15, 2007. I am blessed to have such wonderful doctors – Dr. Jerry Malefatto, my oncologist and Dr. Susan Dunbar, my radiologist and their wonderful team who made my treatment go so smoothly. Chemo is a tough road but somehow God gives you the strength to get through it. I have met some amazing and courageous people during my sessions of chemotherapy. You become like a family – all there for the same reason – fighting for your lives.
Chemo, of course, has many side effects and one of them is the loss of your hair. Rather than go through the pain of watching it fall out a little at a time I decided to shave my head so that I could be in control of the cancer. We chose a day in honor of my Dad. On January 18, 2007 my loving and brave husband shaved my head. We cried but we also laughed. I was able to joke about it too. I decided to let the birds use my hair so they could build a nest for their babies. At least I knew it would provide a home for them, as I have a special love for all animals. I didn’t care about being bald. It didn’t change me as a person. My main concern was to get the cancer out of my body. Hair grows back. Cancer kills.
On special occasions I usually send my Dad a balloon by letting it go into the sky. Today was special because I made a decision to take charge of my cancer. I chose the 18th because my Dad would have been 81 this year so I reversed the numbers. I got a balloon, wrote him a note with a piece of hair attached and sent it on its way to him. I said Happy early Birthday and I hope you are proud of me Daddy.
My daughter and I have always discussed children losing their hair to cancer. We thought how could we honor my Dad on his first year anniversary. We measured my daughter’s hair for Locks of Love, which is an organization that provides hairpieces to financially disadvantaged children under age 18 suffering from medical hair loss from any diagnosis. You need a minimum of 10 inches to participate and that is exactly what my daughter had. So on April 24, 2007 – the one year anniversary of our Dad’s death – my daughter chose to donate her hair in memory of her “Poppy” and in honor of me. My younger brother who is a hairstylist cut her hair. It was a special day for all of us and tribute to all who suffer from cancer. I knew our Dad was smiling down from heaven and he would have been proud of all of us, especially my daughter.
Although I was fortunate that my father’s cross found my lump I was never made aware that I have dense breast tissue. Now that I know I want women to be made aware so that they can ask their doctors if they have dense breast tissue in order to receive better screening. Dense breast tissue greatly increases the risk of cancer. Dense breasts can more easily hide a cancer because dense breast tissue appears white on a mammogram. And that makes it hard to spot a cancer which is also white. In contrast, fatty tissue is dark on a mammogram, which makes it easier to spot white cancer. Breast density comes from the presence of more connective duct lining and milk gland tissue. If I knew that an ultrasound would have detected my cancer I would have insisted on the test many years ago.
So to all the women out there, please fight for your life. Make sure the proper tests are done. Do not be afraid to ask your doctors questions so that you get the proper screening. You deserve to know everything about your body. Always remember to do monthly self examinations. It can save your life.
Although this journey through breast cancer has been a tough road there are many positive aspects that have come out of it for me. I have become a stronger person and I realize even more how precious life truly is. I have always felt that laughter helps cure everything – so laugh each day. It will make the bad days turn into good ones. Sometimes we take each other for granted. Make sure you find the time for your loved ones and tell them how much you love them. Thank God everyday for your blessings and live each day to the fullest.
When I heard that I had breast cancer, one of the first things that came to my mind was when I get better I want to help other women get through this rough road and let them know that the sun will shine again. Never give up hope. I was blessed to have so many wonderful women come forward to help me get through this battle that I decided I wanted to give back in any way that I can.
As I end my story I would like to thank God, my family, friends and all the wonderful people in my life who have been there for me.
And thank you Dad for saving my life. You are my hero. I love you and miss you. Although you are gone, our bond will continue to live on forever.
Cathy's e-mail: email@example.com