“Tweety Conquers That Mean Old Bweast Cancer”

“Tweety Conquers That Mean Old Bweast Cancer”

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

“Tweety Conquers That Mean
Old Bweast Cancer”

Iattribute my success to this—I never gave or took any excuse.

Florence Nightingale

We all have some type of “guardian angel” that watches over us. Mine happens to be Tweety Bird. Many years ago, I was told I looked like Tweety because of my spiky, blonde haircut and big blue eyes. Over the years, Tweety became a “mascot” of sorts, but when I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 1996, Tweety quickly assumed a more important role in my life.

Because there was a history of breast cancer on my mom’s side, I can’t say I was totally surprised to get my news. I was three months shy of my “BIG 50.”

There is no “right” way to receive this news, but my OB/ GYN for thirty-plus years should probably be the poster boy for how NOT to tell a woman she has breast cancer. He called me at my office (after trying me at home, and scaring my husband and mother half to death). A man of few words, he said, “I have the results of your biopsy, and it’s malignant, so you need to do something quickly.”

Well, what I quickly did was hang up the phone, walk into a staff member’s office, state “I have breast cancer” (which really made it REAL), and burst into tears. I added, “I can’t do this!”

She immediately replied, “Yes, you can, and you will.” Two of my staff members drove me home, where my husband and mom were anxiously waiting.

Those weren’t the last tears I shed, but it was the last time I said “I can’t” through the entire ordeal.

Once I got over the initial shock of actually having breast cancer, I went into immediate action by creating a notebook entitled “Tweety’s Battle with (and VICTORY OVER) Bweast Cancer.” I divided it into four sections: (1) Lumpectomy or Mastectomy? (2) Reconstruction Options; (3) Treatment Options; and (4) General Information. Using information that I obtained from the Internet, various books and the Y-ME Breast Cancer Support Group, I created a list of “interview questions” for each specialist I was going to be seeing. This research helped educate me, and there is no doubt in my mind that knowledge truly is power! As the vice president of human resources for my company, I’ve had extensive experience in developing training manuals and conducting managerial training on how to conduct interviews. Little did I know I would be applying this knowledge personally. My doctors were impressed—and often amused—during my “interviews.” By injecting humor at every possible opportunity, I approached breast cancer head-on with a strength and determination that even amazed me!

As a result of my Q&A sessions, I came away from each appointment with more knowledge, which allowed me to make the decisions that were right for me. I opted for a mastectomy, with five years on tamoxifen and tissue-expansion reconstruction—a lengthy process that resulted in a new nickname at my office: “Dolly Darke” (after the large-busted celebrity Dolly Parton). My doctors still laugh when they remember how I was trying to talk them into liposuction and a face lift as I was being wheeled into the operating room, wearing a Tweety pin on my surgical gown.

After my surgery, I became a certified volunteer with Y-ME, manning the twenty-four-hour Hopeline and serving as a “match” for newly diagnosed women. I also wrote a letter to the Washington Post, which was published, and to my Virginia congressmen, protesting “drive-through mastectomies.”

I vividly remember one woman for whom I was a match. She was from another country and had no family and very few friends in the United States. She was scheduled for a double mastectomy, and her HMO was planning to send her home alone the day of her surgery. Appalled, I contacted the hospital and her insurance carrier and made arrangements for her to remain in the hospital for two nights. They even had a health-care representative go to her home and check on her after she was released.

We had talked by phone many times, but had never met. The day after her surgery, I burst into her hospital room to visit her and brought butterfly balloons—in Y-ME the butterfly signifies “new beginnings”—and a card. She was so tiny and looked so alone and forlorn in this huge bed. When I introduced myself, her eyes lit up, and she clapped her hands like an excited child!

As I mentioned earlier, I have a very short, spiky haircut, and her first comment to me was, “Is your hair just growing back?”

I responded with a laugh, “No, my hair always looks like this!”

She was very apprehensive about her scheduled reconstruction, not understanding the process, so I just opened my suit jacket and showed her my finished results. She was reassured and relieved. After my visit, I truly felt as though I had made a difference in her recovery process.

Today, more than seven cancer-free years later, I recently re-experienced the many emotions (shock, fear, anger, acceptance, determination) when my older sister was diagnosed with breast cancer at sixty-one. I dusted off my Tweety Bird notebook and headed to Richmond, Virginia, to ensure that my “guardian angel” was available if needed.

The amazing experiences that I’ve had and the incredible survivors who I have been so blessed to know since my initial diagnosis have had a tremendously positive impact on my life.

All serve to reinforce the motto of Y-ME: “No woman should ever have to go through breast cancer alone.”

Susan Darke

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