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Breast cancer survivor stories: ‘I know there is ... abundant life after diagnosis’

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 best friend of 35 years likes to say we’ve shared everything but husbands, underwear and toothbrushes. That’s because we belong to that not-so-small sorority of breast cancer survivors and fought the disease together twice.

This year I celebrated the 20th, 11th and third anniversaries of my breast cancer diagnoses. Although a three-time survivor, I think of myself as a thriver. Years ago, I feared cancer, but that changed. I learned I could have breast cancer and God could heal me three times! The last 20 years have led me to more self-awareness and spiritual growth than I ever imagined.

That doesn’t mean it was easy. A caring, committed medical team was vital. Twice I had chemotherapy and radiation. Finally, in 2011, I chose a 12-hour surgery (on a single day) , involving double mastectomy and reconstruction.

The road back to “normal” had its bumps, smoothed by support of family and friends. They were in this with me, every step of the way. My husband and daughter lovingly cared for me when I was unable to do for myself. Neighbors provided meals for a month. Family and friends visited and brought along doses of encouragement. Through it all, I never asked “why me?” Why not me! Nothing made me exempt. I was just a wife and mother going about life.

Because of the amazing support from Y-Me Breast Cancer Organization, 19 years ago I became a volunteer. Over the years, I served as teen and adult workshop presenters and 24-hour hotline counselor. My goal was to share insight and encourage those paralyzed by fear. I smile when reminded of the teen workshop attendee who noted that a breast cancer survivor shouldn’t be as happy as I was!

Cancer has taken me on a tremendous journey. I know there is not only life, but abundant life, after diagnosis. I’m glad my misfortune has allowed me to reach so many people. After all, no one should have to face breast cancer alone.

Cynthia K. Duncan, Chicago