No two breast cancer patients handle the disease in quite the same way. Nonetheless, one thing is certain: A positive attitude is good medicine. We asked breast cancer survivors to share what helped or helps them endure the fear and treatment. From inspiration drawn from a famous poet to advice from a cherished friend or trusted physician, each of these individuals has words they've held onto in the worst of times. And in the tradition of passing on the help, they are sharing them with us. Here are their words of advice.
- Jennifer Towery
Get mad, and don't give up
My wife was a 16-year survivor who passed away in May 2010. For advice to other survivors, as I told my "darlin' bride" - get mad! If you lay down and give up, the disease wins. Fight, be mean, and don't ever forget: You can fight this. You can overcome this. And as my wife proved for years, you can lead a good, long productive life.
To all the ladies out there fighting this mean, nasty killer, don't give up. Fight, lead a full, wonderful life, and embrace all who will be with you on your journey. You are not alone, and you are loved. God bless you all.
Husband of the late Dixie Kingsley
Husband of the late Dixie Kingsley
Don't stop living your life
We never expect to hear "Your biopsy results have come back, and you have cancer," but that is exactly what I heard on Jan. 14, 2011, and my world was turned upside down.
I had my surgery on Feb. 14, and am currently undergoing 33 radiation treatments. To date I have completed seven of them.
There were several things that got me through the month from diagnosis to surgery. Among them, a strong faith and a loving and supportive family unit and fantastic friends, surgeons, physicians and medical personnel.
I think it's very important to try and stay as normal as you can in your daily life and be informed about your condition and options for treatment. When my mind began to wander off, I would journal daily. This helped me to face my fears. I tried to keep focused on the present, and take one day at a time. I also tried to recognize those things that I could change and accept the things that I could not do anything about. It put the situation somewhat into perspective for me.
I am so very blessed and thankful for two of my dearest friends who kept me busy. They did not allow me to wallow or feel like I have been going through this journey alone. Their constant phone calls, visits and weekly "girls day out" truly kept me from losing my grip, and I am grateful to them.
Please ladies, get your regular mammograms. Because I did this, my cancer was caught very early, and my outcome looks very positive.
It's a dreadful disease, and I hope and pray that we find a cure.
Cheri Jacobson, 60, Brimfield
Surround yourself with people you love
I am an eight-year breast cancer survivor. My advice to anyone diagnosed is to stay positive and always surround yourself with the people you love - they will help keep your spirits up when you need it the most. Don't ever give up. Continue living life as normally as possible, and love life.
Strength from determination
Often, people don't know what to say, so they say things like "you'll be fine," or "I don't know how you're doing this; I could never go through this." Believe me, that is NOT the advice a cancer patient wants to hear. Does anyone really know I'll be fine? What other choice do we have than to go through it?
The best piece of advice I got was, "Chin up, shoulders back, you WILL do this." I took that advice and made it my mantra. On days when I felt consumed by worry, I made an effort to put my chin up and shoulders back. I faced each day with the determination that I would beat breast cancer. Cancer can take so much from us; it took my breast. However, cancer gave me a strength I didn't know I had, courage I didn't know I'd need and a deep appreciation for friends, family and health care professionals who I may have taken for granted before I began my fight against cancer.
When you first discover you may have cancer, your life is filled with so many frightening things. You need an ultrasound; you need an MRI; we have to biopsy ... we found cancer. I am very grateful to my plastic surgeon, Dr, Glyn Jones, who told me on my first visit, "We can put Humpty back together again!" I held on to that as well, remembering that there would be an end to treatments and surgery.
Cancer is a lifelong journey. Even when treatment is over, there is still that worry every time you have a mammogram or feel what you think might be a lump. My advice to women facing a breast cancer diagnosis is to reach out. Talk to friends, join a support group, read books. I have been able to reach out to other breast cancer patients, and I always tell them, "Chin up, shoulders back, you WILL do this." Women are strong beyond our appearance. Together, we can fight cancer and win!
Don't just survive - thrive
"Surviving is important. Thriving is elegant." - Maya Angelou
After surviving my diagnosis, during treatment and even now, as an eight-year survivor of breast cancer, I did and still do use this saying as my mantra.
The words have provided me with strength, hope and inspiration.
Strength to persevere through challenges.
Hope to heal physically, emotionally and spiritually.
Inspiration to love life.
I am surviving, and, I dare say, thriving.
'You need to fight this'
I am the mother of three beautiful girls. After finalizing the divorce of my 15-year marriage, I met someone. He became a friend, a confidant and someone I spent a lot of time with.
As we sat watching a movie one night, he put his arm around my back and under my arm to pull me closer to him. As he did he felt a lump, I assured him it was just a gland. But after three weeks of him telling me I needed to get it checked out, I went to my doctor, who sent me to the Susan G. Komen Center for a mammogram.
I had the biopsy done on a Friday and returned on Monday, July 14, 2008, alone for the results. When they gave me that diagnosis - "It's breast cancer, either Stage 2 or 3" - I wanted to run away, scream, cry, laugh, tell them they were wrong. Most of all, I wanted to fight someone. I calmly put on a brave face and walked myself to my vehicle where I sat alone. I screamed, I cried and I laughed and said, "They must be wrong." Then I had a conversation with my mom.
My mom was my best friend. She had passed away May 11, 2002, the day of the Race for the Cure that year. I told her I wanted to see her, but it was just too soon. I wasn't ready to die. I needed to be here for my girls, and I know this life has so much more planned for me. The sun shone brightly in my face and this warmth came over me. I'm not sure if it was because it was July, and I was sitting in a vehicle with the windows up and the car wasn't running, but I want to believe it was my mom and my two aunts, who passed away from breast cancer, giving me a big hug telling me I need to fight. I can fight!
Two days later, I sat in front of my surgeon, who gave me the best advice: "Breast cancer is not a death sentence. You need to fight this."
She trained me for my fight, and fight I did. After a partial mastectomy, chemo, radiation, hair loss and the worse pain I have ever felt from the onset neuropathy, my fight was over.
As I look back, I realize that through it all, I wasn't alone. My girls, my family, my dad, my friends, my doctors, and most of all that guy - they were all there for me.
I told that guy he could walk away from our relationship with no hurt feelings because I knew that this would be too much for anyone to take. He stayed in my life. He reminded me every day that I wasn't dead. My guy and my dad were the two best coaches any fighter could ever have. They let me cry on their shoulders and then would push me back out to fight, reminding me all the time, "This is not a death sentence, and you can win this fight!"
And I did. I'm cancer free, and I've celebrated two birthdays since that diagnosis. It feels good to know I'm not alone.
I was 36 when I was diagnosed. Insurance standards say that women shouldn't have mammograms until age 40. They are wrong. I remind people that they should check themselves regardless of age.