I Am One in Eight

When it comes to cancer, they say the time between diagnosis and treatment is one of the hardest parts to deal with. This is the dark hole where The Wild Thoughts live during the day and where the Night Terrors wake you and tell you that cancer is growing everywhere in your body.

I have the displeasure of knowing this first-hand because in January, I became the “one” — as in one in eight women who will, in their lifetime, be diagnosed with breast cancer.

I’ve always wondered what it’s like for people when they hear those words. How does that conversation go down?

I’ll tell you: On January 23, the radiologist who’d been studying my mammogram and ultrasound images entered the examining room, introduced herself to me and said, “So, I just have to say it: it’s cancer.”

Just like that.

I can tell you at that exact moment, I did not appreciate this doctor or her manner. I stared at her while I tried to make sense of what she was saying. How could she just walk in and say, ‘It’s cancer.’ There was no warm up, no hand-holding, no pat on the shoulder.

The timing was horrible. I was leaving for a month-long trip to SE Asia in five days…but I guess the timing is never good when you get this news.

“You can go,” she said, “but be prepared to come back early.”

She suggested an immediate core biopsy and I agreed. It would feel good to prove her wrong.

A week later, I sat on the edge of a tub in an ugly little bathroom of an Air B&B in Taipei listening to my family doctor read the biopsy results over the phone. The radiologist was not wrong.

“I’ve made an appointment with a surgeon who’ll determine if you need a full mastectomy or just a lumpectomy,” my doctor added, half a world away.

A full mastectomy? It had only been a week since I was told I had breast cancer and now I’m having to consider the possible removal of both breasts.

I returned from SE Asia and on March 13 met with Dr. Dabbs, a soft-spoken surgeon, who took her time examining me and explaining my situation. When she said I wouldn’t need a mastectomy, I wept with relief.

Her colleague, Dr. Olson, performed a lumpectomy on April 2 leaving me a few ounces lighter and with a 3-inch scar between my right breast and my armpit. Eighty-four days would eventually pass from when the radiologist walked in so cavalierly with her findings until I’d sit with Dr. Olson on April 17 to go over the pathology report. That’s a long time to wonder what you’re up against. The stress of not knowing, coupled with The Wild Thoughts, was debilitating. I thought again how the timing sucked. I really didn’t have the steam to take on any more stress. My plate was full.

Two years of divorce proceedings had tapped my resources (mental, physical, you name it); my father’s health was declining, and we were in the process of moving him to a care home. Three days before his move-in date, he changed his mind and didn’t want to go. I snapped and immediately felt horrible. He had no idea what I was going through and I didn’t want to burden him. He had enough to deal with.

With each day that passed, it was getting harder to stay positive. A therapist friend, knowing what I was going through with the divorce (but nothing else), suggested I might be suffering from high functioning depression—basically smiling on the outside; breaking apart on the inside. He was right. I was all that and more. Not only was I trying to keep my head above the 5-foot mark in the mental health pool but also the heads of my kids too as they struggled to cope with the fallout of divorce plus the added trauma of watching their step-mom lose her five-year battle against cancer. A month after I told the girls about my diagnosis, she passed away. Their grief crushed me.

How could I convince them I’d be okay?

By the end of May, I had come to terms with my diagnosis. My first appointment with an oncologist was set for June 5. Just knowing there was someone who could show me a treatment path made me feel better. Three days before that appointment, a close friend died unexpectedly. We had spoken the night before about going out for dinner with friends. The suddenness of his death levelled me flat. I honestly didn’t know how much more I could take.

The Cross Cancer offers psychological, spiritual and social worker support for people diagnosed with cancer. I dialled the number and spent half an hour talking with a counsellor. The relief was enormous.

By the time I met with the oncologist a few days later, a handful of people knew of my diagnosis. By then, I realized that trying to do this all on my own was a mistake. I took a friend with me to make notes and ask questions; a wise move as it turns out. By the end of those two hours, your brains are mush.

It took me a week of contemplation and research before I decided that chemo followed by radiation is the best treatment plan for me.

Chemo. Ugh. What an extremely difficult decision to make.

I have Stage 1, Grade 3 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma of which, I am told has a “definitive high cure rate with chemotherapy.”

When Dr. Olson explained the pathology report, he kept calling me a survivor. I am going to do my very best to not let him down. Plus, I’ve accepted my scar now, and I think it’s pretty wicked.

The next time you see me, I might have a new hairdo—and that’s a whole other hellish thing that someone facing chemo has to deal with. Trust me, the emotions on each level are next level.

But here’s what I’ve learned:

The human spirit is amazingly resilient.

Warrior Stage is not achieved overnight.

People are generous and willing to help if you let them. Don’t do this alone.

Each diagnosis is unique. Each journey is unique.

Cancer is not a death sentence. (Repeat after me.)

Lean on your provincial health support services; your mental health is vital to your outlook and recovery.

Nothing scares me anymore.

I’ll be writing about this experience in an effort to lend support to anyone going through this and to encourage women to engage in early detection procedures. Almost half of all breast cancers these days are detected in Stage 1, so don’t put off that mammogram, sister friend. It could save your life. #herestothegirls

Next phase: Chemotherapy

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Author: Twyla Campbell

World-wide wanderer, CBC Edmonton AM Restaurant Reviewer, Member of Edmonton’s Slow Food convivium, oenophile, epicurean explorer and a freelance writer whose works have appeared in several magazines and newspapers including More, Above & Beyond, Avenue (Edmonton), Up Here, Northern Flyer, Opulence, City Palate, the Edible Prairie Journal, The Edmonton Journal, Slow Food Canada, Lifestyle Alberta, and on Slow Food Edmonton’s website. Grant MacEwan University (Professional Writing Program) Bachelor of Applied Communications Degree (in progress). I’m a Tweeter @wanderwoman10

22 thoughts on “I Am One in Eight

  1. Thank you for sharing your story. My mother was diagnosed a few years ago. It scared her, our family and myself. Since her diagnosis, we have done a lot of research about breast cancer. The process of learning of this disease put some of the fear and misunderstanding away. Having family and friends support helped my mother tremendously. After the mastectomy and chemo, my mother wouldn’t leave the house for a long time. She eventually made peace of herself. She has accepted her scar and hair lost is a part of her now. It is her new normal. Today, she is cancer free and can once again enjoy gardening and good food which she got a lot of the suggestions from your website.
    Thank you again for sharing your story which touches my heart. Best of luck to you.
    And yes, cancer is not a death sentence.
    Keep on going girl.

    1. Hello Angela, thank you so much for this comment. There is amazing strength in hearing from other people about their experiences. Your mother sounds like a strong woman although I’m sure she didn’t feel like that at times. I get it. Please let her know that I’m proud of her and happy that she is cancer free. And yes, I will definitely “keep on going” 🙂

  2. Twyla, all the best to you. This is such a raw and honest post, I’m really in awe of your strength. But here’s the thing…it’s okay to feel any emotion that you need to. Be strong but not stubborn. Reach out if you need lifting on this hard road. You never know who has your back.

  3. I’m VERY proud of you for writing & sharing your story~ its an important, informative & beautifully written article. 🙏🏻
    This will no doubt help many, MANY people who are themselves struggling through a similar ordeal…or have a loved one who is !!! 👏🏻

    Bravo to you my dear friend for being courageous & a true Warrior!! 💞 I’m in awe!!
    You’ve got much more than your fair share going on these days…and I’m sending strength, love & support your way!
    Liking the African proverb says, “if you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together”.
    #sisterssupportingeachother

    You’ve got this! 👊🏼 You really do.
    Cancer has NO idea who it’s messing with!!!

    xo’s

  4. You are such an amazing writer (and person of course). Your friends are with you all the way.

  5. I’ve been loving your slots on CBC, and your blog since I moved to Edmonton. You have helped me discover that this is not the culinary wasteland I thought I had moved to. Your joi de vivre and total enthusiasm for life have filled me with joy. All the good that you unknowingly sent my way I am now sending back twofold, to wish you well.

    1. This is so beautiful, thank you 🙂 I’m beyond touched to know that what I did (and do) on CBC has impacted you…seriously, that is an amazing feeling to know that. Thank you, Jacky…I will take “all the good” you are sending me and keep it close. xoxox

  6. Thanks so much for sharing Twyla. It is really good for people to read this and know they aren’t alone and that their feelings are real and that they can share and not carry this burden alone. I can only imagine how scary this is for you and others. The “C” word is a word nobody wants to hear about. We have all had loved ones in our families or a friend that has dealt with this. It never is easy. Some are lucky enough to get through it fine and others struggle. I agree that you need to accept help (as hard as that is sometimes). That is what family and friends are for. Kalle and I both send you positive vibes and hope you make a full recovery. Take Care!

    1. I appreciate those vibes. Like they say, “we’re stronger together”; it’s good knowing you have people behind you. And yes, the “C” word is a word I’d like to see erased from our vocabulary. Thanks, cousin 🙂

  7. Hi Twyla,

    In 2017, I was in your position. My situation was complicated by the fact that I had dense breast tissue and was never told. My mother had breast cancer twice and her grandmother had it, so I was considered higher risk. I had my first mammogram at 21 for diagnostic reasons and then again in my late 20s and mid-30s. I started my screening mammograms at 40, but no one ever mentioned my dense breast tissue was getting in the way of seeing cancer masses – both appear white on a mammogram and unfortunately, breast cancer likes to grow more in dense breast tissue than fatty tissue. I got incredibly lucky though when I was sent for a bone scan that revealed soft tissue uptake in my right breast. I was then sent for a mammogram, tomosynthesis and ultrasound. All could see nothing. One radiologist thought my dense tissue looked like it was growing instead of shrinking, which it tends to do as you age and thought I should have a biopsy anyway. Due to this choice, I ended up getting a MRI that revealed three cancer masses and they were able to biopsy one of them. I chose a double mastectomy because of the difficulty in finding and diagnosing my breast cancer. I ended up having 10 cancer masses in my right breast, nine were invasive lobular carcinoma and one was invasive ductal carcinoma. They were grade 2 and I got incredibly lucky it was stage 1 and hadn’t gone to my lymph nodes.

    I was able to have reconstructive surgery at the same time as both mastectomies, so I still look reasonably normal on the outside. I also didn’t have to have radiation or chemotherapy. However, I didn’t know my left breast was clean until the pathology came back after my left mastectomy.

    I mention all of this because knowing your breast density level helps women manage and work in partnership with their doctors to prevent late stage diagnosis. I was told in my case my breast cancer would have been found too late. Fortunately, now most women are being told in Edmonton if they have dense breast tissue ie category C or D density. It’s worth all women checking into this if you are over 40.

    1. Trish…I can’t even find the words. You have been through so much. I’ve never really had the “density” discussion with anyone before or heard of the C or D rating. This is something I’ll be researching now, so thank you for leaving such a personal and informative note. I wish you all the best as you go forward and that you get the best ongoing care possible. Thanks for sharing. xoxox

  8. Dear TR, So sorry to hear about your breast cancer. I know the shock one goes through when you first hear the diagnosis. Both Uncle Bill and I have gone through that dreadful moment a few times, but it seems to be less frightening than the first time, and that is because you kind of know what to expect . Uncle Bill’s esophageal cancer was one that the Drs. never expected him to get through it. He is now in remission 10 years. But is battling major lung cancer now. My cancer was lung cancer in both lungs. I’ve been in remission about 6 years. We’ve both gone through many chemo and radiation treatments, and we were blessed to have very few minor side affects. The most important thing we’ve found is to put all your faith and trust in God to get you through this, and by all means ask for prayers for you from your family and friends. We have a prayer chain at our church, where prayer warriors pray for each other. I will be glad to include you in our prayer chain asking God to comfort and strengthen you, and to heal you, if that is His will. Stay positive and be as active as possible. Accept help from your family and friends, because in so doing, they get blessed as well as you! Uncle Bill and I will be praying for you (and your family, because it can be very hard on them as well). I know you’re a strong woman, TR, and know that you’ve always had a special place in our hearts! YOU AND THE LORD HAVE GOT THIS COVERED. This is one Bible verse that gives me a lot of assurance – Mark 11:24 -Therefore I (Jesus) tell you, whatever you ask in prayer, BELIEVE THAT YOU HAVE RECEIVED IT, AND IT WILL BE YOURS.

    1. It’s amazing what the body can go through and recover. I am SO thankful for advances in medicine and cancer research that allow the professionals to treat these diagnoses. I’m also thankful that you and Uncle Bill have powered through treatments and all the horrible stuff that comes with cancer. I love you both very much. Thanks for the note and the advice 🙂 I’m trying to stay as positive as possible and I am still putting miles on my bike. xoxoxoxo

    1. I’m finding this to be a whole other #metoo movement 🙁 I’m sorry you are in this club but what I’m finding is that this club is made of some pretty amazing women. A friend of mine shared with me an African proverb that says, “If you want to go fast, go alone. But if you want to go far, go together”. I absolutely love this. There is incredible strength gained from not going it alone and from seeing so many women come forward to say they’re also “1 in 8” but also a survivor. It’s empowering. So, here’s to US! ALL of us. xoxo

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