Even though it was almost a year ago, I remember it like it was yesterday … I had just come home to Maryland from a nice two-week vacation visiting my family and friends in Kansas for the holidays and I was ready to get back to my crazy busy life. It was January so that meant it was time for my annual mammogram. I was so busy playing catch up at work that I almost cancelled it. I didn’t have time to go sit around a doctor’s office for an uncomfortable mammogram. I had just taken time off to go to my OB/GYN appointment and she gave me a breast exam – I was fine, there were no lumps … But ugg, let me just go get this mammogram done so I can mark it off my list for the year.
Boy, am I glad I didn’t cancel the appointment.
I was called back in for a second mammogram and then a biopsy, then I was diagnosed with triple negative invasive aggressive breast cancer. I got extremely scared and depressed. I remember being mad at God. My whole life has been hard. I have struggled. I have had to fight from the bottom and clawed my way up and now this … an actual fight for my life.
A little history about me: After poor decision making, getting in tons of trouble, dropping out of high school, and being kicked out, I left for the Navy at age 17. Given my track record, everyone thought I would fail, which just fueled me to work harder. I had a great career in the Navy and traveled and lived in wonderful places including Italy, Puerto Rico, Washington, DC and Stuttgart, Germany.
In between Puerto Rico and DC while I was visiting family and friends in my hometown in Kansas I got pregnant with Aiden by a childhood friend. I had been serving in the Navy for almost six years by the time he was born and I went on to serve close to another six years before realizing that being an active duty service member and single mom during wartime just wasn’t going to cut it anymore. After much thought and even much more prayer, I decided to give up a career I loved serving my Nation when my enlistment was up and enter the civilian sector for the first time. It was very scary. The military was all I knew, but I had to sacrifice because I had to be around for my son. So, I honorably separated from the Navy on July 11, 2010 at the completion of my 3rd enlistment after serving a total of 11 years, 9 months and 14 days.
While in the Navy I took advantage of the Tuition Assistance Program and went to college. I completed my Associates of Arts in Media Communication and Bachelors of Arts in Communication with a minor in Psychology and graduated on the Dean’s List, all while being active duty and a single mom.
The first job I got as a civilian was a government job in DC. After being in the military and having many expenses paid for – housing, medical, dental, to name a few – I didn’t bring home near as much as I expected. Unfortunately, I had signed a lease for a house I couldn’t afford and I began sinking into debt. I had to use my credit card to keep the lights on.
I didn’t talk about it much (had to keep up appearances, right) and I did my best to scrimp, save, bargain shop, coupon and sacrifice. I remember feeling so helpless … here I am this single mom, barely getting by…My worst fear was becoming my reality. I remember thinking that I was going to be just another statistic. A stereotypical single mom – barely getting by. I wanted to break the cycle and I wanted to be more. To be better. So I decided to use my GI Bill to go back to school and work towards my Master’s degree so I could get a better paying job and end the cycle once and for all.
I sacrificed so much and I worked so hard. I was a full-time single mom, I had a full-time job, I went to school full-time, I had recently moved to Maryland and I didn’t have any friends or family in the area to help look after Aiden while I attended classes or worked on papers. But I managed because I fought. For everyone who told me I couldn’t, I fought on and worked harder to prove them wrong.
Then out of the blue while I was still working on my Master’s, I got a job offer at a small consulting firm, which gave me a nice pay raise and I eagerly accepted it. I loved the extra money, the work was great, and I loved the client and made some awesome friends.
Fast forward a few years later – I finished my Masters of Science in Business with a Public Relations Specialization – graduating in the top 10% of my class – and bought a house in a nice neighborhood, all while working full-time and raising Aiden alone.
Then, I got offered a job at a Fortune 500 consulting firm, which again offered a pay raise and some wonderful benefits. I accepted the job and after about a year of continuing to scrimp and save I was able to pay off all my existing debt. Aiden was getting more self-sufficient, I bought a new car, I had a little money in the bank and I felt like finally, for the first time in my life, I could stop fighting. I could stop struggling so much and just live and appreciate life.
Then I turned 35, the holidays came and went, I breathed easy and enjoyed life without the constant nagging feeling of having more work to do, more studying, debt hanging over my head, Aiden hanging onto my legs, the constant feeling of drowning and barely having enough energy to gasp for air was gone. But then … the other foot fell. I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
I was mad at God..but I wondered, was He also mad at me? So many things were going through my brain … treatment and surgeries weren’t even on my mind. I was in shock. I remember thinking: Seriously, after all I have been through and all I have sacrificed I have to go through this? Why did you do this to me? What will happen to Aiden if I die? I don’t have family here … who is going to help me? How am I going to pay my bills if I can’t work? What did I do in a past life to deserve this? I’m so tired … do I even have any fight left in me?
The scariest part of it all was during my battle with cancer, I honestly didn’t feel like I had any fight left to give. It got so bad towards the end that I wanted to just give up. For the first time in my life I just wanted to quit. I wanted to lay down and die. That was a scary feeling, but an honest one.
I fought for my life because of Aiden. He doesn’t know it, but he saved my life.
I think it’s a common reaction … when something goes wrong we feel like we have to blame someone. I didn’t have anyone to blame because cancer is cancer – it doesn’t see gender, age, race, religion, sexual preference – nothing. It affects who it affects and try as you might, there’s nothing you can do to stop it. You can be the healthiest person in the world and still get cancer … babies get cancer, children get cancer … it’s not fair and there is no rhyme or reason. You just have to accept it and be ready for the fight of your life.
I guess if I was asked by someone battling cancer how to survive, how to fight when you just don’t feel like you can anymore … my advice would be to think about who you love the most. Who you absolutely cannot leave this planet for … and fight for them.
Don’t lay down and accept defeat, no matter how sad you are or how much pain you’re in. Do your best to keep your mind off it. Stay as busy as your body will allow and use your mind as much as you can to keep it sharp.
I remember watching the Game Show Network and playing along with the games while sitting through my chemo and fluid sessions – it helped to keep my mind off the fact that poison was being pumped into my body through a port surgically implanted in my chest. I worked as much as I could while going through chemo and I volunteered as Team Mom (manager) for Aiden’s football team.
I hit my two months of being cancer free on Dec. 12. I am still trying to come to terms with the disease that tried to kill me and now I am working on my mental recovery – which is a whole new battle. My first step was asking God for his forgiveness for blaming Him and being mad at Him. I think (hope) – by him letting me survive this disease – that he has forgiven me.