I Am Not Alone

I Am Not Alone

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

I Am Not Alone

There are only two ways to live your life. One is as though nothing is a miracle; the other is as though everything is a miracle.

Albert Einstein

“Hi . . . am I the first?” I asked tentatively as I entered the room, and she immediately came toward me, hands outstretched in welcome.

“I’m Leatrice. Did you call me?” Her eyes were a soft, warm brown, her smile quick and sincere.

“Yes, I got the information from the hospital. I’m Janice.” I nervously brushed long blonde hair over my shoulder.

“Oh, yes, Janice. Welcome. I’ll be running the group tonight.”

A tall Caucasian woman walked into the room, her head wrapped in a bright magenta scarf. She smiled at Leatrice, then at me.

“Hi, Joanne. This is Janice; it’s her first night.”

Joanne took a seat, cracked open her water bottle and had a long drink. “I’m trying to drink eight glasses a day, but it’s really hard. Some days the water tastes like a metal doorknob.”

“I know,” Leatrice replied, her midnight black hair bobbing as she nodded her head. “Try lemonade or Gatorade. Some days it’s easier to get down than water.”

Two Asian women walked in. One was quite young, the other in her fifties. The older woman said, “I heard about the group from my doctor.”

“Welcome. Let’s begin.”

Joanne raised her hand. “I’ll start. I just did my second round of chemo last Thursday. I’m on A.C. for four rounds: Adriamycin and Cytoxin. I’m stage two; three lymph nodes positive. I’m having trouble with my port—it kinked up and really scared me. I was afraid they wouldn’t be able to use it for the next round. The port is a godsend; it saves my veins from collapsing like my friend’s did. That’s why I want to keep it working perfectly. Usually I’m really happy with it.”

“Are you going to drive while you go through your treatment?” Leatrice asked.

“I have to, since I can’t get any time off from work.”

“Be careful of the seat belt then; it can really rub on your port. I had a piece of sheepskin wrapped around the seat belt, and that really helped—kept it from rubbing,” she said. “I went through breast cancer seven years ago. I had a lumpectomy, and I’m doing fine.”

I looked at her in awe. She was filled with such energy, health and vitality! I marveled at the way she had graciously welcomed everyone, making each of us feel comfortable and safe. I said, “It’s really inspiring to meet women who have been through this and are doing great. I look at you and begin to believe: if you can do it, I can do it.”

She looked at me kindly. “Why don’t you tell us about you?”

“I’m Janice, just diagnosed two weeks ago. I go in for surgery next week. I don’t know yet if I need to have chemo—won’t know until after the tumor and the lymph nodes are checked out. I’m having a port put in next week, and I’m really nervous about it.” I looked quickly from one woman to the next. “I had a lumpectomy two weeks ago, but have to go back in for more surgery Wednesday because they didn’t get clear margins the first time—the tumor was bigger than they thought it would be. They need to have a section of healthy tissue around the tumor to have a clear margin.” Suddenly, all the tension and fear I’d been holding came flooding out, and I began to cry.

“I’m really confused—still in shock, I think.” I struggled to talk as the tears flowed down my face. “I just can’t believe this is really happening.”

Leatrice pushed a box of Kleenex over to me. “It’s still so new,” she sighed.

Another woman spoke up. “I’ll go next: I’m Sandra, twenty-eight. I was diagnosed with stage three, several tumors in each breast. I had a double mastectomy four months ago, and I’m going to have reconstruction as soon as possible. I don’t know why this happened to me; I have no history of breast cancer in my family. I think you can drive yourself crazy trying to figure out why. There is no ‘why.’ What is, is. You just have to face it and get on with it.”

Another woman said, “I’m so hot!” and she reached up and took off her baseball cap, along with the wig she wore underneath. “Whew, that’s better! I can’t handle this thing.” Her head was covered with fine, downy fuzz about a quarter of an inch long.

“Hey! Look at that! You have hair, girl.” Leatrice was laughing.

“It’s starting to come back in—finally. I’m sick of this wig. I went in for my last chemo four weeks ago and have been in radiation for a week. I go every day. It takes about ten minutes, no sweat. After chemo, anything is a piece of cake, if you ask me.”

“How long do you have to go for radiation?” Joanne asked.

“Thirty-three treatments, about six to seven weeks, then I’m done—I hope.” She brushed her hand over her head and smiled, “It’s really coming in soft. Like a baby.”

I must have been staring at her because she turned to me. “The best thing is if you shave your own head. Don’t wait for the disease to take your hair—do it yourself. It will make you feel much more powerful, like you’re the boss, not the cancer.”

“Thanks,” I said.

Soon the two hours were over. I felt elated. My first breast-cancer support group had been so powerful. I’d learned about ports and wigs and clear margins. I’d seen the proud beauty and strength of these women, and I felt as though I was being heard and understood in a way that none of my friends or family could provide. Only someone who had walked the path could give me the answers I sought. After months of searching, I had found a sanctuary, a temple of wise women to guide and train me.

I was not alone.

Mary Olsen Kelly

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