Diagnosed with breast cancer in late summer 2011, I braced for yet another uphill battle regarding health. Plagued with fibrocystic breast disease, I had multiple aspirations and biopsies over the years that caused a buildup of scar tissue. Even though my mother was a breast cancer survivor in 1958 at the young age of 44, the possibility of getting cancer seemed to decrease for me over the years due to the numerous cysts and benign growths that my body was producing. I was on the edge of becoming complacent regarding lumps and growths and breast cancer. THEN in August of 2011, upon getting an “all clear” mammogram, a NEW LUMP was detected during a doctor office examination. I was CERTAIN that this was not anything new, and that it was simply built up scar tissue from a previous biopsy. I was even on the edge of dismissing the “possibilities,” when CeCe, the nurse practitioner assured me that this was new, it was NOT there the previous year, and this was serious—regardless of the mammogram assessment.
The summer of 2011 had been vibrant with trips and house guests and general summer activities. Due to the busyness of life, I toyed with the idea of skipping that August yearly exam. Believe me when I say that I am grateful I kept the appointment! I was diagnosed with Stage 1 Triple Negative, a rapidly growing form of breast cancer. After two lumpectomies and then a mastectomy I was off to begin chemotherapy treatments. On my first visit to my oncologist I was informed of the speed the tumor had been growing and learned that if this were three to six months later, we would have a very different story.
From my experiences, I urge all women to be responsible regarding their health. Years earlier, In May of 2005, I was diagnosed with Parkinson's disease. Research shows that one's diet and exercise are key components in fighting that disease. I feel that due to my active involvement in yoga, as well as cardio workouts, my recovery from breast cancer was shorter and lighter than it might have been. I am not refuting the negative effects of chemo and hair loss – both are extreme and personally invasive, but for me an established healthy and positive life style gave way to a strength that was preparation for the battle against breast cancer.
Support is crucial. I was blessed with a great support system of family and friends. (My husband even shaved HIS head when I lost my hair.) I joined two support groups— Joanie's Sisters and The GLOW Girls. They were and are active and supportive. They were kind, caring and compassionate.
In summary, I implore ALL women to be vigilant in matters of health. Don't become complacent. Take ownership of yourself. Be regular in mammograms and exams. Do monthly self-exams. Eat healthy. Exercise regularly. Reach out to others who have lived the same experience. Be strong. Don't give in. Fight like a girl – a Ninja Warrior Girl!! I am.
- Paula Fleming Caldwell