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Breast Cancer

A Survivor's Personal Account

The "one in seven" statistic rings true as VIVA Executive Editor shares her story.

En español | This is not the story I planned to write.

I wanted to share what life is like for me three and a half years after being diagnosed with breast cancer. It seemed important to let other women know that life doesn’t always take a 180-degree turn after a close call with cancer, that we don’t all start eating right, exercising regularly, and exorcising stress from our daily lives.

I keep eating French fries along with the strawberries, blueberries, and broccoli I know I’m supposed to consume. And most mornings, the idea of getting up, lacing up, and going to the gym loses out to enjoying the comfort of my bed for an extra hour.

And I don’t feel totally guilty about my “misbehavior,” just disappointed when I feel my pants tighten and see my upper arms wobble.

Recently, I started working with a personal trainer to tighten the arms and abs, and loosen the pants. But I still don’t have the discipline to get up early when he’s not going to be around to count the squats and crunches, the biceps curls and triceps pull-downs.

I still think it’s important to not give ourselves mental lashings if we don’t follow the “rules” of the food pyramid and the latest exercise guru. We are, after all, human.

Can I strive to be wiser in my food choices, more diligent in my body nurturing? Yes. And I do. But I need to delight in a bubbly root beer float or double-chocolate brownie every once in a while. Life is full of pleasures we shouldn’t miss.

And it is full of surprises.

As you may have read in our magazine’s October/November 2005 issue, one in seven women will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I am the “one” in our work group.

When I was diagnosed in early 2002—at age 49—I was blessed with early detection, the malignancy was removed, and I was spared chemo and radiation. I knew I was being given a wonderful opportunity. As editor of another Spanish- and English-language magazine at the time, I knew I had also been given the perfect tool to spread the word about breast cancer and the importance of regular checkups and mammograms. I used that tool, and others, every chance I got.

So when we included a story about Latinas and breast cancer in our magazine, we decided I would once again share some thoughts about my own experience.

At the time, I didn’t know I would be given the chance to share more than my breast cancer story.

In mid-September, I had an endometrial biopsy to find out what’s going on with the lining of my uterus. A pelvic ultrasound had revealed an abnormal area in my womb. As those infomercials are so famous for saying, “But wait, there’s more!”

My right ovary contains a cyst that also looks suspicious.

I’m not clairvoyant, but I see surgery in my future. My gynecologist recommends removal of the entire ovary, which will then be biopsied. Whether it is cancerous will dictate any further action.

On September 20, as I was writing about this, my doctor called: the endometrial biopsy is normal! My uterus—the baby holder that never cradled a tiny boy or girl—is safe for now.

Again, I’ve been blessed.

So what’s most important to me now is to let women know that when I found out about these two possible problems, it was not because I had any symptoms. It was because I went for my annual gynecological exam, the one where we say, “Oh, I’m going for my Pap smear.” The one that—like a mammogram—can be uncomfortable. Each year, I go, I grin, I bear (and bare) it.

But it was because I thought having had cancer called for a follow-up pelvic exam that I asked to have one—in fact, insisted. So, it’s important to ask questions and to push—if necessary—when satisfactory answers and action aren’t forthcoming. And it’s important to change doctors if you aren’t happy with the one you’re seeing.

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