You have cancer…those are words that no one ever wants to hear. When you do, your world changes instantly. I will never forget the call I received from my doctor telling me I had ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), which is a form of breast cancer. One minute I’m sitting at Starbucks drinking coffee and working and the next minute, I’m a breast cancer patient.
The next 4 or 5 days were very surreal. I’m in the medical field, so I’m used to discussing care plans, treatment options, and outcomes, but it seemed like I was talking about one of my patients. Then it hit me…I’m the patient!
From there, I knew I had to do everything I could to fight. This “cancer” was not going to get me. I was told I needed surgery and radiation. Even though I’m in the medical field, I knew very little about proton radiation. My surgeon said I would be a good candidate for proton therapy and assisted in setting up an appointment at the OK Proton Center. Receiving proton therapy was very important to me because I have asthma. Regular radiation would have radiated my heart and my lungs also, so I knew proton therapy was the right choice.
I was diagnosed four days after my daughter’s wedding. Right before Christmas, I had two surgeries in a period of 1 1/2 weeks because we didn’t get all the cancer the first time. I also had four new doctors, a multitude of appointments, biopsies, MRI’s, ultrasounds, 10 proton radiation treatments, and hundreds of emotions. They ranged from surprise, doubt, fear, fatigue, gratitude, anxiety, body image changes, appreciation, anger, joy, and more. It was all very exhausting.
From the time I walked through the doors at the OK Proton Center, I felt a “peace”. Everyone was so nice, patient, kind, caring and compassionate. I felt like I was with family.
Knowing I had this kind of emotional support at a medical clinic was a huge part in my fight and I am now 3 1/2 years cancer free! I can’t imagine if I would have had to worry about how would I even get to my treatments, or do I have enough gas money to get there, or if I even had a place to sleep. Or worse…if I was on this journey all alone because I was far from home.
During this time, I met people who DID have to worry about all these things. I met one lady from Arkansas, who was around my age, and had a daughter who was a senior in high school. She would drop her daughter off at school on Monday mornings and drive to Oklahoma City to get her treatment late that day. She would stay here for the week so she could get her daily treatments and schedule her Friday treatment early in the morning, so she could get back to Arkansas to watch her daughter at the Friday night football games. She did this for approximately 7 weeks…all while being away from her support system and undergoing treatment for brain cancer.
It’s stories like this one that made me want to get involved. I had been looking for somewhere to serve that was near and dear to my heart. This, breast cancer, was literally and figuratively near and dear to my heart, so I asked, “How can I help?”. I became a volunteer for the Proton Pals Foundation and now serve as the Board Chair. This has allowed me to give back to people who are undergoing proton therapy and I am forever grateful for the opportunity.