Surviving breast cancer is a difficult, life-changing event – for anyone.
Personally, I underwent a partial mastectomy, a lymph node dissection, 15 rounds of chemotherapy and 33 treatments of radiation. I now have clinically disabling lymphedema (persistent swelling) of my right arm and hand and can no longer perform hands-on treatment of my patients.
But the most difficult part of surviving breast cancer was losing my mom while I was undergoing chemotherapy. My best friend, my voice of reason and the person who could always help me find the answers to any problem, was no longer here. My mom was gone and I was alone. Weeks before my mom died I was also diagnosed with a congenital heart defect that was potentially life threatening but not surgically correctable. Coming so close to death caused me to see that although I had spent my life helping thousands of patients and their families in this country and abroad, I merely existed. Helping people became “what I did.”
I began searching for the higher purpose in my life. My lymphedema had affected my ability to safely care for my patients and my boss at the time called me into his office and said, “A physician who is not clinically capable is of no value to me.” My heart sank. My life’s dream seemed to be coming to an end at 42 and after 18 years of service, I was told I had no value. I had two teenage daughters who wanted to go to college – how could I afford to send them without a job? I was a doctor; I didn’t know how to be anything else. I spent my entire life preparing, becoming and practicing as a physician. After months of physical therapy and struggling with depression, I found myself getting angry. Angry at being told that through my short lifetime of struggles that I had no value.
But I’m alive and cancer-free for a reason.
And I’m meant to be part of the solution.
Since my diagnosis, I have chosen to LIVE. So I decided to make a difference, not just in my life, but in the lives of others. By helping them through their struggle and showing them their own value, I would find mine again.