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Guest Post: Pam's Story

2017 started out just like any other year. Making plans, setting goals, looking forward to the hopes and dreams we always do at the beginning of a new year.  At my annual physical in January, the doctor reminded me that we had to re-check that lump they had discovered back in July in my left breast. It was abnormal they said, the shape of it. Oh that, I thought…I had forgotten all about it.

Turns out the lump was still there. A biopsy was scheduled. I was more afraid of being poked by the biopsy needle than at the prospect of the lump being anything but benign, so I psyched myself up for the poking.

Upon arriving for the follow up appointment, I noticed it was in Oncology. For some reason, my mind didn’t register this fact…because breast cancer was “someone else’s disease.” I had no family history, I had lived a pretty healthy lifestyle, how could I possibly have breast cancer? Perhaps I was in denial, but the thought never crossed my mind, not even for a second. This was a routine test, and all would be ok, as usual.

Nothing prepares you for hearing those words. “… I regret to inform you that you have breast cancer….” After that for a moment I could see the doctor’s lips moving but couldn’t hear anything, just snatches of words….” Carcinoma”….”nodule”….”invasive”…..”surgery”….The blood drained from my face, I felt light-headed as Dr. Ramos got up to hug me. She said that if I was going to get breast cancer, the type that I had was the “best kind” because it was treatable. How can any type of breast cancer be the best kind, I thought? I shivered with shock and fear, and was stunned into silence…(if you know me, you know that is something that rarely happens)…All I could do was ask myself “Did I not take care of myself enough?” “Am I gonna die?”…”Will it hurt?” “Why me?” …“Was I going to be ok?”

I had a whole speech prepared for my partner and love. I told him that if I ended up getting really sick, he need not stick around – I didn’t want him to see me going through this and he was free to move on if it got to that point. His eyes filled with tears and he told me to stop talking nonsense, but I was so far away from family, in a country that had only been my home a few years, my insecurities wondered if he would stay by my side.

I knew that I would have to find my strength for the road ahead, have faith,  be positive that everything was going to be ok and that I wouldn’t have to go through it alone. I started envisioning myself as a warrior, sword and all…I wasn’t going to let this beast take me down. Meditation and yoga helped me through the anxiety.

I was impressed and astonished at how quickly things moved from there. My oncologist was a pro, and I came to trust her completely.  We had a trip to Tulum planned for our dear friends’ wedding which I was expecting to have to cancel, but Dr. Ramos said to get all pre-surgery tests out of the way and go enjoy myself. I would be seeing a group of close friends from San Francisco, where I had lived for 23 years before I moved to Lisbon. On that trip to Mexico, I got loads of hugs, advice, and positivity and it was about the best thing I could have done during that scary time. The beach, the sun, close friends, a culture I adore, tacos, lots of love and many margaritas…and the wedding of two of my dearest friends. I felt like I was wrapped in a warm and loving blanket, but between hugs and love I was also terrified at the seemingly long road ahead to rid my body of this cancer. I meditated at the sacred grounds in Chichen Itza and prayed that I would have the strength to get through the journey ahead.

I think after the initial shock you have no choice but to find inner strength. On days when I couldn’t stop crying or was wracked with anxiety I knew I had to reach out, to get emotional support, a shoulder to cry on; optimism and love. I reached out to my friend Bea, who had gone through a difficult battle with breast cancer, and has since founded this app! Although in a different time zone, she was right there. We checked in regularly, and her support was invaluable. I didn’t feel alone, and she helped me to find my strength and give me hope that I would be ok.

It has taken me a year to feel “normal” again after radiation, losing a ton of weight and getting used to the side effects of Tamoxifen…I am finally back at the gym, doing yoga, loving and living…and trying to figure out what the hell I want to be when I grow up…the same question I had before all of this. I finally feel like myself again. This experience has changed me forever. I am a survivor. Along with the millions of women who fight this beast and are still here to tell their story.  

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