Lulu, a 40-year-old mother living in a close-knit family, was never one to shy away from challenges. She had worked her way through college and a number of job promotions. So when she learned she had stage 4 breast cancer, she found the strength to work through cancer while holding her family together by embracing cancer with a smile, and a lot of faith.
I had gone for my regular mammogram, and my mother was there in the waiting room taking care of my 4-year-old daughter. When the doctors told me I had a lump and they needed to do a biopsy to better understand my cancer, I knew I was going to have to go out there and tell Mom. I just sat there praying for the right words, and for the strength to go through this. While I was praying, one of the technicians took my hand and said everything was going to be okay. For me, it was as if God were telling me I was going to be ok, and I found the strength I needed.
When I went out, my mom knew that something was wrong — I had been gone such a long time. I hugged my mom and told her I needed her to be strong and that everything was going to be okay, but that my mammogram had detected cancer. My mom was devastated and started crying, but my daughter, who didn’t understand what was happening, was making funny faces and jokes to try to get my mom to laugh.
Strength From Others
Before we left, the technician who had held my hand came out with a slip of paper saying, “Make sure you get these two doctors, they are amazing.” We went right from radiology to the Breast Cancer Connection, where they helped me set up appointments. When I asked for the recommended doctors, they told me that they have to schedule my appointments with the with the first available doctors who match my needs. And as she was calling to make appointments, it turned out that the recommended doctors were the first available! I took that as another sign that God was watching over me.
Once that was all set, I called my husband who arranged a family meeting that afternoon. I told the whole family that I needed them to be strong and positive, that I would be fine, and I was going to fight. That is who I am. I needed them to be there for me, not sad and mopey. My husband, who held up very well for the first few days, eventually broke down in tears. To see him cry just broke my heart, but I knew then that it was important that I say something to him. I needed him to stay strong because I needed all my energy to stay focused on getting well, not on him.
Strength For Others
When I met with my oncologist, she told me it was stage 4 and that they needed to treat me aggressively with chemotherapy to see how my body would respond and then decide on the type of surgery. I assured the doctor that I would be ok, that I was just there to help others and knew that I would soon be sitting there with a victory in my hands. I never had any doubt in my mind or in my heart that I was going to win the battle.
As I was leaving the hospital, I saw a woman crying, and something in my heart told me to talk to her. It was like God gave me the right words to give her faith and strength. She also was facing cancer and was overwhelmed. I told her I would come to her first chemo with her and help her. I assured her we would battle together and win together. As I was leaving, I understood that part of my purpose, the reason that God has given me cancer, is that I am strong. I embrace everything, never stop smiling, and I can help others. I made a t-shirt that said, “Cancer Messed with the Wrong Woman” on the front, and on the back it said “Fighting together with strong faith and a positive attitude is the only option.”
Pushing on With Life
In addition to sharing my diagnosis with the family, I decided I needed to go public to show all the people I loved that this was not going to be a battle that would go wrong. I wanted them to know that we were going to embrace it and do amazing things for others. Through social media it was amazing the number of people that were reaching out to me and being supportive. I am convinced that God chose me because he knew I was going to have the love and support I needed.
When I started chemo, I promised myself I wasn’t going to stop smiling—I was going to do the opposite of what cancer wanted me to do. That meant I was not going to stop working, not going to stop my life. Instead of having the lifestyle that cancer wanted me to have, I was going to make cancer have the lifestyle that I usually live. After the first day of chemo, my head hurt, and I had pain in my joints, so it was clear the fight was on. But, it was Halloween so I took my daughter trick-or-treating anyway. And from then on, the days I felt the worst, I pushed the hardest to feel better and to look better. I never lay down, I just fought harder.
Sharing the Bounty
The doctor warned me that I was going to lose my hair and gave me a wig prescription, which my insurance covered. But I didn’t want to wear a wig. I wanted to understand what it was like to be bald and knew it wasn’t going to affect my self-esteem. Self-esteem comes from the inside. At one of my treatments, I heard a lady crying. Her beautiful long hair was falling out and she was so distressed. I tried to reassure her she was still beautiful, that her hair would grow back and that she could get a wig. But she said she couldn’t afford one. So, I told her she could have mine. I measured her head and mine: they were the same size! That was just another beautiful testimony that I had cancer for a reason, which was to help others.
The process is not easy. But I taught my mind to tell my body how to feel, instead of my body telling my mind how to feel. In the beginning, I would look in the mirror and tell myself I felt good. I would repeat that 100 times a day until feeling good became a habit. The minute I thought I was feeling sick, I could remind myself that I was feeling good. I trained my mind to think positive. Every day I tell cancer you are not winning. It’s a very tough process, but if you fight with a strong positive attitude and with strong faith you help your body. I developed mouth sores and definitely felt nausea but told myself not to throw up and educated myself on eating well and being healthy. Other warrior friends helped me too.
Dig Deeper, Fight Harder
After 6 months of chemo, the tumors were mostly gone. I had a lumpectomy, and then started radiation, which was even more difficult than chemo. My whole skin came off—my neck and chest and breast skin just peeled right off. I found it very challenging, and I was so exhausted by then, but still I embraced it. It was what I had to do. Five times a week for 10 weeks. Then they put me on Tamoxifen.
I never thought I was going to die from cancer, but during the process, these thoughts come to your head. I would block them out and turn them into something positive, find a way to dig deeper and fight harder. It was tough.
People were worried about me financially and wanted to help. Some friends started a Go Fund Me, but I told my supporters that all the help they wanted to give me, I would share. So, I helped fundraise, and with the funds, dressed as Mrs. Claus and brought toys to the children’s cancer ward at Christmas, dressed as the Easter Bunny and brought Easter baskets in the Spring. I enjoy helping others and was so grateful for everything I have. As hard as it is to go through cancer, I found a way to twist it to be a battle of love and kindness. During my journey, I was meeting other patients and warrior friends. We supported each other, and I often felt I needed more time during the day to help and share the positivity. It makes a huge difference when you battle for your life if you fight with a positive attitude rather than negativity.
Tears and Joy
My daughter amazed me throughout the process. When I explained what was going on, even when I lost my hair, she embraced it too. When I was bald, she told my nephews to “tell my mom she looks beautiful.” For me, it was important that nothing changed around her. I continued doing the activities we always did. And seeing me be the same, being there for her, she was ok. At Easter when we did baskets for the kids on the cancer ward, I explained to her that they had no hair like me, it was amazing how well she embraced the battle, and made herself part of it.
One day, she had Show-and-Tell at school and I suggested she take a doll to talk about. Instead, she took the hospital magazine that had a story about me. The teacher called me and said, “Your daughter makes me cry. She told the kids about cancer, and that you were bald, but the hair was going to grow back. She was so brave and so proud of you.” She told me she wanted to give her hair to the kids that have no hair. It gave me so much joy to see my daughter so strong and generous.
Always Another Step
I think the hardest part about the whole thing was seeing my husband cry. At first, he really processed my diagnosis as a death sentence. But seeing me strong gave him strength. And as we went through every step of the battle, it made him stronger and his heart became kind. When they gave us the news that the tumor had shrunk so much from the chemo, he cried, but this time for joy. This has been a journey of learning for him, watching me help others and knowing that I am stronger because of that.
Every step is going to be different for everyone, but every warrior should know that every step is like a punch in a fight. It doesn’t matter how bad you feel, how bad it gets. You are already fighting, so you need to process in your brain that it is just part of the battle that is going to take you to your victory. There are going to be ups and downs, but in the middle, you have to live your regular life. There are going to be people that are positive and those that are negative, people you expect to be there that aren’t and surprises. But the main effort is to push away all the negative people and negative thoughts. Don’t let them touch your mind, heart or ears at any point. And don’t stop living.
When I first started battling cancer, I didn’t know what I had to do. But now I know. It is like a game, and there is always another step to be taken, another move to make. You just keep playing and hope that you win.