Stories of hope

Anna Presser

AnnaSurvivor since 2011

I discovered a mass in my left breast on June 17, 2011. I had just turned 37 years old. Within 14 hours, I had seen my physician who immediately ordered tests that confirmed my worst fears. My first reaction was disbelief. There was no history of breast cancer in my family. I was young, healthy, and had just passed my physical with flying colors four months earlier. Plus, I was the mother of an 18 year old son, and three daughters – ages 16, 13, and 8. This couldn’t be happening to me. I didn’t have time for any kind of illness in my life.

I immediately embarked on a swift plan of action. Exactly one week from initial diagnosis, I was seen by Dr. Robert Goulet of Indianapolis, my surgical oncologist. I underwent a double mastectomy after which it was determined that I had early stage breast cancer. Then, I began six rounds of hard chemo, one full year of Herceptin chemo, and began a minimum of five years Tamoxifen therapy. I am a triple positive breast cancer survivor. My doctors chose a very rigorous and aggressive form of therapy for my treatment for which I am deeply indebted.

Through it all, the hardest part, was telling my children before I had enough information to even answer the questions that inevitably followed. Watching them come to terms with this new world in which their mother has cancer. And, worrying what the future would hold. The best part was that they were courageous and a tremendous source of strength for me to move forward with confidence. I remember that my youngest daughter turned nine the day after my first chemo treatment. Never did I think that I could muster the strength to go shopping so soon after my surgery, but this I did as soon as I left the oncology unit. At every difficult corner, I found an added measure of strength. I learned God doesn’t give grace, power, and peace until the very second you need it. In the deepest spiritual sense, I was never alone. It was all part of a plan that I would never understand.And yet, my illness never led me to question why.

I feel compelled to pass on the knowledge I’ve gained through this experience. So, here is my advice:

  • 1. Know your body.Know it well.I neglected taking the time to do a thorough self examination. Your physician will never know your body as well as you.

  • 2. Don’t take any day, or its blessings, for granted. Anyone who knows me, know that I dread winter. This year I decided that I was going to appreciate and embrace all the snow, bitter cold, and yes, even its grayness. I took up skiing for the first time in my life and had the privilege of taking on some thrilling slopes in Utah. Guess who is looking forward to next winter?

  • 3. Stare down your worst fears. This may be an irony of life, but I have always especially feared getting breast cancer – you could probably say that I had a really unhealthy obsession. Then, one day I received that dreaded diagnosis. And, I have overcome not only the reality of having it, but of other fears in my life as well – because I am a breast cancer survivor – and I have confidence in overcoming fear and failure. Simply said, don’t give fear the victory.

  • 4. Give attention to and honor your feelings. There is no script for this journey … no CliffsNotes … no shortcuts. Oddly, recognizing your emotions can help to bring clarity to making important decisions. Sadness can help prioritize what is truly important. Pain and discomfort can cause us to draw from a deep well of spiritual strength.

  • 5. Make your circle smaller. My own circle is filled with loyal, devout family and friends who sincerely matter. These are people who enrich my life and help clear my vision and steady my pace on this journey. They are the ones who will minister to your body and soul.

There is a proverb that says, “hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a longing fulfilled is a tree of life.” It isn’t enough that we “hope”. We need to do everything we can to fulfill this “longing” for a cure for ourselves, for our daughters and granddaughters and sisters and mothers, aunts and neighbors.

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