Thriving with love, wisdom and gratitude
My cancer journey started almost 10 years ago while at a routine check-up with my gynecologist. As she was doing the breast exam, she felt a lump. She instructed me to go immediately to the Breast Center at OHSU to have what would be my first mammogram at 38 years old. I'd say I was nervous but with not a huge amount of concern since it's not like breast cancer was prevalent in my family, nor did I know any woman my age with the disease. But my doctor said it was worth being checked out, and I was able to get an appointment right away. I went in for the mammogram and then an ultrasound, and it was after the ultrasound that the radiologist told me she was concerned and wanted to do a biopsy. It was at that moment that I became considerably emotional. I broke down and cried. I think I knew. Three agonizing days later, while sitting in my office at OHSU where I worked at the time, I got the phone call that changed my life with those three little words: You have cancer.
No stone unturned
Like I do with most things in my life, I face the adversity head on. And I felt fortunate that I worked at a phenomenal teaching hospital and had access to amazing doctors, some of which I worked with directly, who immediately got me in touch with the breast cancer specialists. With my parents by my side, we met with the nurse navigator and she explained everything to me, left no stone unturned, in terms that were palatable. It was quite the education — frightening and overwhelming — but I credit her for putting me at ease, for making me feel like I would get through it all and yet without any sugarcoating. So we put together our team who would take me apart and put me back together so that I could eventually feel whole again and get back to living.
A sense of normalcy
I was a single mom at the time of my diagnosis and treatment, and trying to keep things as normal as possible for my 5-year-old daughter, who was at the top of my priority list. It was no small task, but I had the support of my family and friends and a great team of doctors and nurses who helped keep me moving forward, one step at a time. It would prove convenient working at the same hospital where I had all my appointments. I continued to work full time throughout my treatment. It was one way that helped me maintain a sense of normalcy. My infusion days, every other Friday, became social hour with the nurses. While being poisoned wasn't exactly how I had ever envisioned spending a Friday afternoon, I looked forward to seeing the staff who would take such good care of me, make me laugh, talk to me about all things non-cancer, while in the room cancer was all around me.
"I am thriving"
Three months of chemo, one single mastectomy, a few rounds of reconstruction and several hairstyles during the regrowth phase later, I am, as they call it, cancer-free. Being almost 10 years out, cancer is no longer something that I think about every day, yet I am constantly mindful of just how precious life is and how important it truly is to live beyond the clichés of living life to its fullest and embracing each day as it comes. My life is full of love and adventure, soccer and yoga, a bounty of wisdom and gratitude, and zest for life, all of which I have cancer to thank for. I am more than surviving. I am thriving.
Three dots mark the spot: my journey with breast cancer
I got my first tattoos at the age of 41: three tiny, distinct blue dots not much bigger than the period at the end of this sentence. There is one punctuation mark in 12-point font in the center of my chest and two slightly smaller polka dots on each side of my rib cage.
The pin pricks in my sides were easy, nothing more than light pokes. But I let out an audible yelp when they injected the needle into the taut layer of skin over my sternum. The area was pink and irritated all day, jogging memories of getting my ears pierced in the third grade and learning that scratching only makes it worse. Read the rest of Liberty Barnes' story.