A Time to Listen

A Time to Listen

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

A Time to Listen

True silence is a garden enclosed, where alone the soul can meet its God.

Catherine de Hueck Doherty

Standing in front of the kitchen sink, cleaning up yet another mountain of dishes, I complained loudly to myself. Here it was mid-December, and once again I wasn’t nearly ready for the holidays at our house. I was failing miserably at a half-hearted attempt to make my oldest daughter’s birthday cake before going off to work, and I’d have to leave early to be at school for a presentation my daughter was giving. Never enough hours in the day! Was I always going to be pulled in three different directions at once, doomed to play beat the clock? If only I could have time to read a book, watch a movie, be alone or just plain think. In less than two weeks, my prayers would be answered, and I would get everything I’d wished for—and more.

Wednesday, December 13, 2000, was another full day: a morning social obligation, mammogram at 10:30 A.M. and then school activities for the kids. I was dreading the whole day, especially the mammogram.

At the radiologist’s office, I casually mentioned that during a self-exam I had noticed a small bump on my right breast. “Probably hormonal, no big deal,” I told the technician. The area was marked and X-rayed. Strange, they called for an ultrasound—just trying to be thorough, I thought.

Then a doctor said, “You need to see a surgeon and have that taken out; there’s a good possibility it’s cancerous.”

The next several minutes were a blur, but I do remember finding myself in the bathroom crying. Wait a minute, I haven’t even had the time to get this Christmas underway, and it might well be my last one. This can’t possibly be happening to me. I’m only forty-six, in good health, exercise and go to church regularly, and have a young family to care for. Surely there has been a terrible mistake!

At home there was a message from my gynecologist: “Call me!”

I did, and he offered me kindness, support and the name of a wonderful surgeon who saw me the very next day. I trusted him instantly. A biopsy confirmed it was malignant. The tumor was not very large, only five centimeters, and detected early. “You’ll need another surgery,” he said, “and radiation, but you can expect complete recovery.”

The surgery could be done on Friday, three days before Christmas, or I could wait until after the holidays. I decided the sooner the better. How would we tell the kids, our family and friends? The children would have to be told first, since I would be going to the hospital before Christmas and staying overnight. At a family meeting during dinner, we simply told them the truth: “Mom has cancer.”

Although the surgery was considered successful, a big surprise to all of us was that the tumor was almost twice the size as originally stated, and that both sentinel and axilliary lymph nodes were involved. This would change everything, and it meant there would be six rounds of chemotherapy followed by seven weeks of daily radiation. My immune system would be compromised. Work and vacation plans would have to be changed. I would lose my hair. All of a sudden, there would be plenty of time for me to read those books, watch that movie or just plain think. There would be many hours that would be spent alone recovering.

Although the scope of what was happening wouldn’t occur to me for a while, God was answering my prayers in his own way. My life was beginning to change.

Looking for a positive spin, my daughters and I spent an afternoon wig shopping, the three of us trying on new colors and styles. I thought, Well, this would be the first time in my life I would not have to worry about bad-hair days.

I was in treatment from January through the end of August 2001. Most of that time was spent in a doctor’s office, being examined, having blood drawn or getting daily injections. During that time I found time to watch only one movie and read two books. I slept quite a bit and certainly had plenty of time to think, but most of my time was spent listening . . . listening to others tell their stories, celebrating with other patients who were well enough to go on a long-awaited vacation, giving hugs and good wishes to those who had finished treatment and always marveling at the patience, skill and kindness of the oncology nurses, appreciating the brilliance of my oncologist and surgeon.

I participated in seminars, workshops and clinics, watched the seasons change, listened to my kids laugh, had actual conversations with my husband, learned how to draw eyebrows on my pale face, became close friends with a certain baseball hat, but best of all came the startling realization that the life I have, although sometimes crazy, was a good one and certainly one I was not ready to abandon.

Cards, letters and well-wishes arrived often. I’ve kept every one of them and will always be touched by the time taken by all of these people, some of whom I barely knew, to lift my spirits and send encouragement and support my way. On those especially bad days, I would take them out and read them again and again. They provided a renewed energy and determination to be strong and fight hard.

My diagnosis was over two years ago. There are still days when I’m tired, cross and angry, and don’t think I can fit it all in, but I’m very pleased to still be here to fit in what I can. God’s gift to me was to listen to my prayers and answer them in a way that would allow me to realize how truly lucky I am to have a loving husband, three beautiful children and wonderful friends. I’m still busy, but never too busy to take time for an impromptu lunch, a cup of coffee, take a walk or listen to a friend. Now when I find myself standing in front of the kitchen sink, cleaning up those mountains of dishes, I smile and thank God for the second chance to truly enjoy the life he has given me.

Donna Andres

More stories from our partners