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chloesmom story

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It was spring 2001, I was 45 years old and I was buzzing along just fine. I had a job that I liked and was good at, my husband had a job he liked and was good at, we were just starting to undertake a huge $$$$ landscaping project, and I had just lost 16# with WeightWatchers.

I thought I'd do one little thing before the big project started taking all the time I wasn't working or golfing--go get a mammogram. I had a baseline mammo at 40 yoa which was fine, but I figured it was time to get another one. Got the mammo and then, about a week later, the phone call came. Need more views--there's something we need to rule out. Got right in--got another call the next day. You all know how it is when you're getting way too much attention from the medical community.

Met with a surgeon who told me we needed to do a surgical biopsy. Couldn't believe what I was hearing. How could this be? I have always been incredibly healthy--years would go by that I wouldn't miss a day of work for sickness.......Anyway, long story short, I ended up with a surgical biopsy which confirmed very early stage breast cancer--another surgery to clean up the margins and check the axillary lymph nodes (negative) and then it was on to radiation and tamoxifen with a promise of almost certain cure.

Time passes, everything is good health wise. Yes, I still smoke, but not even a pack a day. Every time I cut back, my cough goes away.

Terrorist attacks happen, my husband loses his job, we feel bad, but compared to a cancer diagnosis, losing a job is no big deal. He is starting a new business and I am under the gun big time at work on a high pressure, high profile project that better be done by deadline and done very well. Project deadline came last spring--we kicked bu**, but I gained about 10 pounds by working too many hours and too little exercise and a partner young enough to be my daughter who loves M & M's, and felt that a bowlful on the desk everyday was mandatory.

Decided to head back to Weight Watchers and it was spring again and time for a visit with my breast surgeon. I'm on the every 6 months plan with him for the time being. Mammo was fine and on the way out of the office he said, hey why don't you stop in for a chest x-ray? You haven't had one since before your breast surgery (2 yrs) and you're a smoker, so let's make sure your lungs are ok. I said I would only if I could do it right then and there because spring was here and I didn't want to come back. He said fine, all you have to do is go down the hall, so I did.

A couple of days later, phone call came--you need to get a CT--we see something on your x-ray and 'because of your history' we need to rule out a mass. Got in for CT right away and the next call was--you need to see a surgeon.

Had appointment with thoracic surgeon at University of Chicago the following week. Tried to convince him that there was no way this could be cancer as I had already quit smoking cold turkey (matter of fact, I threw away 6 full packs that night after the phone call about the ct results) and my cough, which was my only symptom, had gone away. He said that was fine, but not only did I have a mass, but my lymph nodes were borderline enlarged, and I would need to get a PET scan, pulmonary function test, and we would need to get a tissue sample to be sure.

Did all that, only the nodule lit up on the PET, which was the good news. Had the surgery, confirmed a T2, Stage 1 tumor, no lymph node involvement. Decided on adjuvant chemo--study had come out only weeks before regarding the benefits of chemo for early stage people.

Had some real emotional problems with all this--I am a very stable person but don't throw two cancer diagnoses at me with absolutely no warnings. I started seeing a therapist, took anti-anxiety meds for quite a while last year, and weaned myself off the anti-depressants just recently. I still see the therapist about every 8 weeks or so--it does help.

Didn't get to lose the 10 pounds and gained about 10 more with the quit smoking thing and the surgery and recovery and chemo. I am exercising like crazy, but still not losing the weight.

My oncologist thinks cancer is an environmental thing with me--that I'm way too young and healthy to be diagnosed twice so early in life. If that's true, I have wracked my brain trying to think what it might be and can't come up with anything. I will always believe that the lung thing came as a result of radiation to my breast. Guess it really doesn't matter--what I do know is that without that follow-up with my breast surgeon and a chest x-ray by him for no reason whatsoever--he said later that it isn't a routine thing for him to send anyone for a chest x-ray as part of follow-up, he doesn't know why he did that with me--I might be looking at an entirely different situation. My therapist said there must have been a guardian angel on my shoulder that day--maybe it was my short, balding, chubby, and very, very nice breast surgeon.

Now I'm another year out from the breast surgery (3 yrs now--yes!) and almost a year out from the lung surgery. In a lot of ways, my life is better--I don't smoke anymore, which was a demon for me for a long time. I'm much more appreciative of friends, family, co-workers,etc. and love just regular life--going to work, projects around the house, my family, my dogs, a beautiful day. My marriage has never been better. I have a team for Relay for Life this year--I feel like that's helping our cause at least a little bit.

Have to say, I'm back to whining about things I used to whine about--bad hair days, this weight thing, annoying co-workers. But, that's kind of getting back to normal life, for which I am very thankful.

I now put exercise first--that's doctor's orders for my lung capacity, but that's ok too, I can do that. I'm working on the weight thing and hope to get some good info from the nutritionist tomorrow actually. I take my supplements faithfully, and again, hope to get some good info from the nutritionist about that too. I also make sure I get enough rest, which is something I used to not do.

I've said before that this board probably has kept me from a nervous breakdown, and I will always believe that. I continue to keep up with my doctor's appointments, which as you all know is practically a part time job in itself, and plan to integrate that with a sound nutrition and supplementation program under the care of an integrative medical clinic. That starts tomorrow. Otherwise, there's nothing I can do but live life and enjoy it all. I am a very grateful survivor and thank my lucky stars every day.

That's my story--thank you for listening.

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