Surviving Cancer

By Guest Blogger Holly Shuster

I’m probably in the minority, but I’m grateful for the messiness of my kids.

I’m glad that four years ago they had a particularly messy day – because it saved my life.

While scraping from myself the errant dried crumbs left behind by my two-and-a-half and one-year-old, is when I found the lump.  Had I fed them something different, or selected a different top to wear, or decided to forego a shower in lieu of some much needed sleep, those crumbs would never have fatefully landed exactly on the lump. Too young or too pregnant, a mammogram had never been on my radar and my monthly self-exams were nothing short of lackluster if they happened to occur at all.

One week later, I got the call that I was pregnant. After months of trying for the final addition to our family we were thrilled by the news! The excitement was unfortunately short lived since the very next day was the call that I had Cancer.

Standing at my kitchen counter I apprehensively grabbed a pen and notebook when the phone rang. That was the worst note I’ve ever taken: “You have cancer.” I stared at that piece of paper and the words I had just written to myself in disbelief … I was only 38 years old! Tears blurred my vision and the words faded as I imagined my girls navigating life without the love and care of their Mommy.  Fear doesn’t begin to describe the terror that Cancer incites and fight doesn’t begin to touch the ferocity that lay dormant deep within when you’re fighting for two.

Mastectomy and chemotherapy while pregnant, a C-section, then 11 more procedures over the past two years have forever changed my world. While cancer during pregnancy is uncommon, Breast Cancer does occur in 1 of 3000 pregnant women. What I didn’t know initially is that Breast Cancer does not kill. Breast cancer that metastasizes to other parts of the body is the culprit. While there is some controversy over how to properly calculate the number of metastasized recurrences, the general consensus is roughly 20-30%. That means approximately 1 in 4 of Breast cancer cases (that weren’t metastatic from the initial diagnosis) are likely candidates for a disease state that has no cure. From the point of that diagnosis their treatment is about maintaining quality of life and minimizing physical pain. I’m no gambler but I don’t like those odds.

While I am labeled as a “Survivor” I tend to think “Surviving Cancer” is more accurate. Just because my breasts have been replaced and I’ve had a preventative total hysterectomy doesn’t mean that the impact of having experienced Cancer will ever be gone. Once the hair grows back and treatments have subsided, there is an expectation to return to normal, but that exact person is gone and perspective has changed.

In this unfortunate club this is typically referred to as “the new normal.” Most of my days are very much “normal,” but there are little things that come along physically and mentally for which there was no forewarning. And those metastatic odds lingering around out there have created a nagging fear that lurks just behind the mayhem of my daily life with 3 kids, 2 dogs and a hard-working husband.

Although support and awareness are important, please consider that not all Pink is created equal. From a Survivor’s standpoint, awareness is necessary but a cure is critical. Pink for awareness or Pink for disease-ending research … just be mindful of where your Pink dollars are going and think before you Pink. I previously worked for a company that offered all sorts of “Pink” items to “support awareness.” Retrospectively, it was mostly a way to increase sales since only a nominal (predetermined) donation was actually given to charity. But, superficially, it still felt good to support a cause and help make a difference.

I have come to realize that awareness is not the difference that needs to be made. I think at this point, with a bazillion products wrapped in special pink labels and sports teams awash in pink uniform-parts we are all “aware” that Breast Cancer exists.

Awareness is not enough. ACTION is necessary. Action in the form of doing your monthly exams. Action in the form of research to end this horrid disease. Action to support the few organizations that actually fund research. Action to help those currently fighting for their lives.

I want to share my story and I want people to talk to me about it. Something good must come from the bad. Something more than Pink packaging can provide. I’ve lost many acquaintances to Cancer (they didn’t get the time to grow into a friendship) … all of them were Moms of toddlers. It angers me, it saddens me, and it scares the shit out of me. It has to stop.

If you know someone who has/had cancer … please be compassionate. The struggle does not end after treatment. The physical, mental, and emotional impact lasts long after the lumps or breasts are removed.

In many ways, over the years,  I’ve emerged stronger. I agree with Rikki Rogers “Strength doesn’t come from what you can do. It comes from overcoming the things you thought you once couldn’t.” And just last week My beautiful, smart, strong Chemobaby celebrated her third birthday!

Although I am a Mom who still sometimes gets frustrated by the frequency of messy toddler tornadoes in my house, I am also a Survivor who appreciates (picking-up) the little things.  Know your body trust yourself and check ‘em if you’ve got ‘em!


7 thoughts on “Surviving Cancer

  1. Brenda Boozer

    As a breast cancer survivor of 8 years and thankful for each day, I understand your appeal for action to find a cure. You are an inspiration and this disease needs to be discussed in a truthful manner as you did. Thank you for sharing.

    Reply
  2. Melissa Vogelsinger

    Love ❤️ hugs and many many many more years of cleaning up messes! You are one strong mama and I’m so happy you crossed my path.

    Reply
  3. Katie

    Your story is so inspiring – and I agree – it’s so important to spread awareness and it’s critical to find a cure! Sadly, a family friend from middle school/high school passed away from breast cancer in her 30s. She was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer when pregnant with her first child and decided to forgo any kind of cancer treatment while pregnant. She passed away when her daughter was just 18 months old. Ironically, her adoptive mother passed away from breast cancer a few years prior. It angers me, scares me, and saddens me too. Stories like yours are examples of the good that can come out of the bad. Thank you for sharing!

    Reply

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