Editor’s note: October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Chicago Sun-Times invited breast cancer survivors to share their stories. We’ll share these first-person accounts throughout the month.
My journey started in February 2007. Almost a year to date of my husband’s death I was diagnosed with stage 2B breast cancer. Some days were smooth sailing, but others I would hit a curve in the road.
I had a lumpectomy. Chemo was a lot worse than I expected. Mainly because I was constantly dehydrated. Fluids every other day took care of that but also meant another trip to the doctor’s office.
I never could look at myself bald. I did not want that picture of myself in my mind for the rest of my life. I wore a little cap when I took my wig off. I would have my sister and daughter give me a hair update when it started growing back. But the best thing is that I always had totally straight hair, and now have a soft curl to my hair — enough that I don’t have to get permanents anymore!
Then came the final lap of radiation. I almost gave up because I was so exhausted, but my support team cheered me on.
I then had to go every 3 weeks for a year for a IV treatment of Herceptin. Without this drug I would not be alive.
I am a 7½-year survivor. My mammograms have been fine. However, on July 25, 2013, I suffered a massive heart attack at work. If not for my co-worker who gave me CPR until the paramedics arrived, I would not be alive. I had to be shocked three times. I have four stents and feel the best I have in years. I exercise every day and have changed my diet somewhat. One of my doctors said there was a good possibility that the radiation contributed to my heart attack.
I try to laugh more, enjoy life and just be happy. I’ve had to make one of two choices in my life — just give up or just keep going. I’ve chosen the latter and am much happier for it. I do not dwell on my past health issues. I am cancer-free and have cleaned-out arteries, so I am ready to go.
Never give up hope. Sometimes hope is all we have, but it is the best thing to keep us going.
Joan Lites, Roselle