This entry was written by Shannon K. Dallahan:
I am 34 years old and there is a part of me that is convinced someday I will have to battle breast cancer. Twenty years ago, my mother found a good-sized lump in her breast while doing a monthly breast exam. The doctors attempted to do an aspiration, but when the lump was found to be solid, the doctors scheduled a biopsy. After talking through all of her options, my mother told her doctors to test her cells while she was still under anesthesia; if it was cancer, my mother agreed to a radical mastectomy. The day of her scheduled biopsy, my mother awoke from surgery minus her breast and fourteen lymph nodes (half of which had been invaded by cancer) and plus a diagnosis of Stage 2 aggressive breast cancer. While all of this was happening, I was anxiously, yet safely tucked away, in my eighth grade classroom.
It was the winter of 1990. My sister was in her sophomore year in college, my brother was in his senior year of high school, and I was smack in the middle of the teenage angst of middle school. The thing is, the middle school I attended, was also the school at which my mother was a teacher…and it was in the district in which my father was a principal. At that age, I was convinced my parents knew everyone – and everyone knew us! My mother endured six months of intense chemotherapy and 30 days of radiation treatment, all while trying to work as much as possible. As she was dealing with lesson plans, keeping her lunch down, and losing her hair, I was worrying about what my mother was going to look like in a wig — and what the other kids were going to say about her…about me. That’s sounds awful, right? But I was a teenager – a selfish teenager who had no idea her mother was in danger of dying.
Over the last twenty years I have learned so much – about my mother, about myself, and about family. For years my gynecologists have been telling me that between my mother’s history and my dense breast tissue (and oh yeah, did I mention my paternal grandmother also survived breast cancer in her 70’s?), that I need to stay on top of my breast health. When I turned 30, my obstetrician (by then I was the proud mother of a beautiful son), referred me to a surgeon who specializes in breast health so I could be followed annually by a specialist. At my first meeting with him, I told him of my mother’s diagnosis. As I continued to talk about my mom, in the present tense of course, he said to me something like, “Wait, she’s still living?!” In a sort of disconnected way, I always knew my mother must have been a strong and determined woman to battle her cancer so aggressively while still continuing to be a teacher, a wife, and a mother. But sitting in that office, talking about my own health and hearing the awe in my doctor’s voice about my mother’s diagnosis, treatment, and recovery, made me marvel at my mother in a much more personal way.
I am now a mother of two wonderful children, a son who is almost six years old and daughter who just turned two years old. I used to be worried about how I would handle a diagnosis of breast cancer if, or when, one came my way – did I have the strength to go through chemotherapy and radiation and lose my long, thick, locks of hair? But now I wonder how my children, my husband, and my parents would handle such a diagnosis. I am no longer that selfish teenager – I am a daughter, a mother, and a wife. I am a sensitive person who wears her heart on her sleeve, worries about others, and wants to do right by everyone in my family, including myself. I know my anxiety about breast cancer increases this time of year because it is typically the time of year when I have my annual check-up with the specialist. I continue to HOPE I will never have to battle such a diagnosis, but I also continue to THINK I probably will someday. No matter how rational or irrational that is, I know I have the love and support from friends and family that I would need – I just have to believe I have the same strength and determination my mother had; because if I do, then I will definitely beat it…just like she did.
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