Toni Jolly with Julie Myers
I was 29 and my best friend had invited me out for a movie night. We had been mothering toddlers side by side, hers born the rigorous adoption method and mine by the rigorous other method. People were raving about the movie, Terms of Endearment. This took place in the days when they didn’t show you the entire movie plot during the previews—I had no idea what was going to happen in this movie. In the back of my mind, I knew I had a doctor’s appointment the next day.
I had found a lump the year before and had it removed. It was benign, and I had no family history of breast cancer. All was good, but now... it wasn’t healing, it was sore, something wasn’t right. I was in the doctor's office that very next morning. BOOM. There it was, those terrifying words, “very suspicious”. He suggested a specialist and I left in horror.
My husband (at the time) was with me. I held it together in the office but became hysterical once we reached the car. The fictional movie from last night, the Hollywood drama of a dying young mom and leaving her little kids, was all that kept going through my mind. It was becoming a reality to me. My little boy Jason was only 2 years old. The doctor must have seen me react out the window. He came out to the car and they gave me a shot to help calm me down.
Surgery was scheduled right away the next week. “The nodules are in both breasts,” they said. “But we can just take the one, and we can ‘keep a close eye’ on the other.” I didn’t want to wait around and see what other dreaded surprises were in store, so I chose to have both removed. They told my family it would be a 1 ½ hour surgery. They kept removing and sending samples to pathology. Six hours later, surgery was finally over. It was Stage 3 cancer, they got it all! Chemo/Radiation would not be needed.
In recovery, I nearly bled out, though. I had a long battle to fight. I remember just sitting up and seeing blood pour out of the drainage tube, onto the bed and the floor everywhere. I had to have two blood transfusions. Back then, blood was in demand. They highly encouraged family to donate. My cousins were there for me and my uncle was a perfect match! Without their support and blood donations, I may not have made it.
Insurance in those days did not automatically cover reconstructive surgery. They sent me home with absolutely no warning, no preparation of what I would look like. They had put in place saline implants, but it hadn’t crossed my mind they wouldn’t be filled yet. You just can’t prepare yourself for something like that! My mom was there for me, she was my rock. When I didn’t want to go out of the house, she would shop for clothes for me, bring them home for me to try on, and take back the ones I didn’t want.
I put everything into raising my son, but it was so hard. A 2-year-old needs lifting for bathing, dressing, for fun. I could not lift a thing, couldn’t play ball, cuddle with him... and 2-year-olds like to kick. Ouch! But being with him was my happy place. He didn’t know what I’d been through. He loved me no matter what. Going out for ice cream with my precious little boy, snuggling up to him was my healing. A year later, I began to feel much more confident. I wasn’t going to give up!
When I was younger, I didn’t necessarily want to talk about it. There’s sometimes a shame; some people look at you differently. Now that I’m life-wiser, it’s different. I am proud to be a survivor! I have relocated and become close to my sister who is going through a battle with breast cancer herself right now. I’m here for her. I made it. I’m blessed and I’m here for my whole family. I want my granddaughters to know about early detection to be aware. I want to share my story and let women know that they can be strong and that family and friends’ support is key.
Something great happened last October. My company usually participates in raising money for cancer and in Race for the Cure. I always help with fundraising, but I’ve not participated on the walk/race day before. This time, I signed up to walk. They sent me a survivor hat and t-shirt, and I told my 13-year-old twin granddaughters what I was doing. They came to support me and we made it out there together. That’s my team! I know every person and experience with cancer and with life, is different. I just want to share a couple things I learned in hopes that it may help someone else:
1. Please don’t “Doctor Google” yourself, looking up every symptom and prognosis. I listened to other women’s experiences just sitting in doctors’ offices and it was so hurtful. No one else is going through just what you are. Find out what makes you comfortable and what is right for you.
2. Never estimate someone’s situation. Everyone in a plastic surgeon's office is not there for "enhancement"; not everyone can donate blood who wants to. People have to tell you their story before you can know them.
3. If you are supporting someone going through cancer, help her take her mind off of it. That’s all I wanted when I was recovering -- to not think about it. Take them out to (happy) movies, dinners, a haircut, to buy shoes, or just talk about other things in life. You might be their rock!