Fifty-One-Year Survivor!

Fifty-One-Year Survivor!

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Fifty-One-Year Survivor!

Fifty-one years ago, when I was thirty-two, I discovered a lump in my left breast. It was “suspicious,” and a radical mastectomy was performed with drains in the armpit, which needed daily care.

So began the “five-year cure” syndrome. If anything suspicious or questionable arose, I was carefully watched and hospitalized to undergo a battery of tests to see if there was any spreading of the cancer. What a happy day for all of us when the five-year period passed without complications! However, it was not so for some of my friends and acquaintances, so while I had reason to be grateful, thankful and jubilant, I had cause to wonder, WHY?

In 1965, thirteen years after the left mastectomy, small lumps began appearing in the right breast area. It was different from the first time, when I had only one lump. Once again, I waited six months—perhaps too long—before consenting to a radical mastectomy. But increasing pain had finally determined my choice: surgery (by the same surgeon) was undertaken, and the bone was scraped. This time I had no drains and no swelling, and once again began the five-year count. That was thirty-eight years ago, and I’ve had no recurrence.

I was certainly more fortunate than some other victims of malignancies, but I obliterated the “cancer” word from my vocabulary, referring to it by any other name I could substitute. Denial? Perhaps. But great faith, loving support of family, relatives and friends, and physicians and surgeons who provided exceptional care—all were comforting and provided great incentive to “overcome”!

Last year was my first experience with the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. My daughter told me that if I was able, I had to go and participate in the walk. The prior year was the first year she had done it, and she was so impressed with what she had seen.

I was reluctant. When I had my surgeries, people didn’t talk about breast cancer. And if they did, it was in whispers. It was a dreaded disease, one that didn’t have much hope of a cure, so I wasn’t accustomed to talking about it, and that’s why I had obliterated the word “cancer” from my vocabulary. There was not the widespread knowledge and support for breast cancer that I’ve learned exists today.

I didn’t decide to go to the race until just a few days before the event, and I probably wouldn’t have if my daughter hadn’t refused to take “no” for an answer.

I was so impressed, as she had told me I would be, and I couldn’t get over how many people were there and all that had been done to make the day special: the breakfasts, the volunteers, the sponsors. It was such a positive experience for me, I was amazed.

As I was putting the ribbons on my cap—all fifty of them!—more and more people approached me to ask me how many years it had been. When I said, “It has been fifty years,” they couldn’t believe it. I was hugged and kissed by strangers who felt a bond as I did. It allowed me to talk about something that I really hadn’t been able to talk about for most of my life and, just as important, to feel as though I could provide some measure of comfort and support to those who were just experiencing what I had gone through many years before.

I appreciate all the work the foundation does to increase awareness of breast cancer. When you’re struggling with cancer treatment and surgery, it’s so important to be able to talk to others who understand or who have gone through the same thing. It’s something that I didn’t have in my day.

Last year, we had a small team that my daughter put together. This year we’re trying to put together a bigger team. We told my husband and son about it, and they want to come, and I’m going to ask some of my friends to join us. How about you? Would you like to join along?

Kathryn O. Sharr

More stories from our partners