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My life totally changed in July, 2000 when I heard the words for the first time, “your biopsy is positive for breast cancer.” Because I worked for a breast surgeon for eleven of my twenty-seven years at the University of Miami my first thought was: How bad is my cancer? Then I thought am I going to die.
I was diagnosed with a stage I, multi-focal, invasive left breast cancer. The first procedure I had was a lumpectomy followed by a modified radical mastectomy, and three months later my right breast was removed prophylactically (meaning by choice). I had no breasts for the first five years as I had many concerns about going under anesthetic, rejecting the implant, and worrying how they would look. After having the opportunity to meet an artist/photographer and his friend who is a body painter I decided to be daring and have my body painted so that I could inspire other survivors and to let them know that they too, can still look beautiful after having both or one breast removed. AS THE COOL PAINT BRUSHED ACROSS MY BODY I FLASHED BACK TO THE DAY I WAS WHEELED INTO THE OPERATING ROOM TO HAVE BOTH MY BREASTS REMOVED. HAVING MY BODY PAINTED HAS TRULY BEEN AN OPPORTUNITY FOR ME TO SHARE MY DREAM OF HOW THE BEAUTY OF BREAST CANCER CAN MAKE A DIFFERENCE.
I hated not feeling like a woman, but I overcame this one day after interviewing a young girl for the book I was writing. After talking about breast reconstruction she decided to “flash me her breasts” and told me that I should get a pair. What a shock that was. Needless to say, it is because of her that I now have size "B" boobs!
For me having had breast cancer is “A gift without the bow.” The not- so- great part of the gift is that I eventually lost both my breasts. The best part is that I was able to choose the size breast I wanted and to give back the blessings I received by speaking to high school and college age students letting them know that being proactive with their body is important, and if they felt uncomfortable with the doctor they are seeing it is okay to question someone of authority. Seek a second opinion if they have to, but be proactive!
After speaking for two years to the students, I wanted to do more. I decided to write my book ‘The Empty Cup Runneth Over,’ which is a treasure trove of information to help inspire, empower, and educate young women and men about breast cancer. To date, I have spoken to hundreds of thousands of students as well as to middle school students.
If having had breast cancer wasn’t challenging enough, my greatest challenge came when my 20 year marriage ended. Sometimes I feel the break-up was caused by my having had breast cancer because we drifted apart after that. In some circumstances breast cancer either brings couples together or breaks up a relationship. I do not have any regrets divorcing, but being single, now 55 years old, and having had breast cancer is a lot of baggage to carry around. Dating is difficult because when does someone let their date know they are a survivor? It is hard for me since I wrote a book and of course I let my date know what the book is about. Next question from my date “Oh, are you a survivor?” I proudly say yes. Guess what? No second date. I have to say that I have overcome this challenge because I know I am a good person and very confident.
I continue to inspire and educate young women and men by participating on many health panels and speak at many conferences. Just recently I was on Sirius satellite radio and spoke at the ACS Making Strides for Breast Cancer, on channel 6 South Florida Today Show, and made front cover to our Miami Herald Neighbors newspaper section.
I would like all breast cancer survivors to know that being diagnosed is not a death sentence, and to surround themselves with positive people. Diet and exercise are important, maintaining a healthy body weight, and limiting alcohol intake are all important to living a healthy lifestyle. Peace of mind is very important, and I have found mine by giving back and helping others.