Remember Your Cancerversary

Survivor Stories

In less than a week, I will celebrate my 9 years cancer-free anniversary. Today, while looking for a gift to treat myself to in honor of the occasion, I stumbled upon your Web site … which I adore! I posted it online and I’ve already chosen a few gifts!! Please, if you can, add my survivor story to the others posted on your site. It would mean a lot. Thank you so much.

 

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Email us your story with a photo to stories@notjustanyoldday.com

Mandy K.

Thyroid Cancer
Ventura, CA

Two years ago I was diagnosed with Thyroid Cancer. I was going in for a routine physical when my doctor felt a lump on my neck. He suggested that I get an ultrasound to make sure it wasn't anything serious. They checked the left side of my neck during the ultrasound and didn't see anything abnormal. However, they noticed a nodule on the right side that had to be biopsied that same day. I thought nothing of it until I was driving to visit my father and received a call from my doctor. He told me over the phone that I had cancer and needed to have surgery right away. My jaw dropped to the floor and I had to pull over on the freeway. I could not speak. I was in shock. The only words that left my mouth were please call my dad I can not talk. Having strong faith in the Lord I eventually pulled myself together after prayer.

I went in for surgery 1 month later after hearing the horrible news on July 11, 2014. My surgery was only supposed to last 2 hours, but turned into 8 grueling hours. The doctor came out and told my family that my cancer had spread and she was very surprised because it wasn't visible on my ultrasound. It had spread to 9 of 11 lymph nodes on the right side of my neck.

After the surgery, my doctor came into the recovery room to tell me that I would have to do a treatment of radiation, which was news I was not expecting. The thought of that scared me even more than the C word. It meant being isolated for 5 days by myself in a room without seeing anyone and that would just be awful!

Fortunately, it was not that bad after all as my mom delivered pancakes to me outside my bedroom door! After doing radiation treatment my nuclear scan came back negative and I was in the clear!! Thank you God! My love for the Lord and my strong faith is the only way I got through this trial in my life. I am actually extremely grateful that I was able to be a success story and give hope to my mother who just beat Pancreatic Cancer last month! God is so faithful! I hope sharing my testimony will encourage you to never give up and never lose hope my friends

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Vicki Tashman

Breast Cancer
Founder of Pink-Link

My cancerversary is February 26, 2004. It’s the date my radiologist called me and told me that my biopsy showed some “cancer cells.” He never said the words, “You have breast cancer.”

It was actually a friend of mine that said, “doesn’t that mean you have breast cancer.” My radiologist proceeded to tell me that this will be a “blip” in my life and I’d get back to normal soon. Was he ever wrong! Soon after starting my journey I realized that I would never be going back to my old life, my old normal. I would have a new and BETTER normal!

I would never wish breast cancer on anyone, but it’s truly been a blessing in my life. My life outlook has changed for the better. Founder of Pink-Link

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Diana H.

Breast Cancer
West Hills, CA

I was asked when my cancerversary was and the date I came up with was not the date that I completed my treatment. I picked the date that I went into the doctor’s office to check on a lump that had been bothering me. I am prone to cysts and I figured it was just another cyst that needed to be drained. No biggie. When the surgeon pulled that long needle out of my breast, he said, “Uh oh”. I instantly knew that wasn’t good.

That day changed my life.

I was diagnosed with Stage 2 Mediplastic Breast Cancer. Of the many types of breast cancer, I managed to get one of the most rare and trickiest to treat. Since it is so rare, the doctors’ know little about how it forms or its long-term prognosis. I may be cancer free today, but tomorrow is a mystery. Lucky me.

I started off my journey as most folks do, I was scared, no I was terrified. Being a single mom with one parent who was ill (and by the way died after my second surgery), I also knew in order to get through; I was going to have to ask for help.

When I did, I was astounded to find that the people I knew were clamoring over one another to assist me in every possible way I could imagine. However, even with all of wonderful people by my side, it took every thing I have learned and every tool I possess to get through a two year battle with a semblance of dignity and grace.

Three major surgeries, and 16 weeks of nasty chemotherapy later, I am happy to say that I am currently in remission. The most important thing I have gotten out of my bout with cancer is the knowledge that I am truly loved by many. I honestly do not know how I would manage without the army of people, including the doctors and staff at Kaiser, who have continued to be so amazingly supportive.

Today, I wear my key with the pink ribbon proudly, not as a reminder of the pain I went through, but as a testimonial to the power of love and courage. My cancerversary date is October 4th 2007. If there is one thing I can say to others is to not be silent. Share what you are going through, let the love your friends and relatives feel for you shine through to help you heal.

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Ziona F.

Breast Cancer
Agoura Hills, CA

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on Aug. 19, 2006, 2-1/2 weeks before my son's bar-mitzvah. I was 46 years old.

After nine months of treatments, including three lumpectomies, four months of chemotheraphy, and seven weeks of radiation, I was finished with my treatments on May 22, 2007. I am now less than one year away from the 5-year mark. My cancer ordeal seems like a distant memory, but I am eternally grateful for having that experience. Having cancer gave me an opportunity to see my life and my world in an enhanced way. Talk about not sweating the small stuff!

I was blessed in many ways. I had terrific medical care. I had the unconditional love and support of my family and friends, and a community of caring people that came out just because they heard that someone in their midst needed help.

I look forward to my Cancerversary because it will confirm for me that "I had cancer; it did not have me." It will affirm that cancer can be overcome and can be turned into a positive experience. Having cancer allowed me to see the blessings that are in my life and that have always been there. I consider myself the luckiest person in the world for having had and surviving cancer.

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Maimah K.

Breast Cancer Survivor
Chantilly, VA

My cancer-versary is a very special day for me. It reminds me that I am blessed to be alive and to use each moment wisely and in gratitude. I was diagnosed with Stage 2 breast cancer at 32 years old and it turned my life upside down. As a single mother with a then 3-year old daughter, I was terrified that I would leave her without a mom and I didn’t know what my future would hold.

Now, four years later, I realize that while breast cancer was an unwelcome experience, I would not give back the experience. It taught me perseverance, strength, deeper love and faith. It taught me to live now and do it to the fullest and I’ve had experiences I only dreamed of before.

Now, I feel like I’m unstoppable. I’ve lived more in the past four years than I did the years before, and when I die, I want to know that I made the best use of my “after life” and impacted the lives of as many people as possible. To me, every day is a chance to start new…whether you have had cancer or not, know that you hold the power to create a new beginning every day.

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Julie & Bennet

The Lymphoma Sisters
Frankenmuth, MI

To hear the words “You have cancer” is devastating for any one person to handle. When you have two complete strangers brought together by the same exact diagnosis, months apart, it makes you stop and think, “How did this happen?” Did we drink the same water? Sit on the same toilet seat? Breathe the same air? We had to give credit where credit is due. GOD places people in our lives at the right time and for the right reason. I thank GOD every day for my Lymphoma sister.

Julie Meadors and I met at Bennett Optometry, in Ann Arbor, Michigan. She was my son James’ vision therapist who helped correct his vision and tracking issues. We instantly clicked and our relationship grew from therapist/patient to friends. Julie and I began talking on the phone like we had known each other since grade school.

Among our busy lives and work schedules our goal was to plan a road trip to Frankenmuth, a little German town in Michigan, to shop and eat their famous chicken. Our plans did not come to pass due to the first diagnosis of cancer September 2006. Julie had an abnormal pap smear which lead to extensive testing. She was diagnosed with stage 4, Diffuse Large B Cell non-Hodgkins Lymphoma. I was in shock to hear that my new found friend had cancer. How could this be? We were supposed to go to Frankenmuth. Julie began treatment along with the ups and downs of chemotherapy and radiation.

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Vesna D.

Hodgkin's Lymphoma Survivor
West Hills, CA

On March 25th, 2010, just 3 days after my 42nd birthday, I went to the emergency room complaining of severe chest and back pain. I had only experienced this type of pain just 3 months before. At that time doctors assumed it was some sort of intestinal issue as my EKG came out normal and CT scans showed nothing unusual. This time I had an ER doctor who was determined to find the source of my pain. After the first CT Scan showed nothing unusual, he then ordered a chest x-ray and second CT scan, this time with contrast. I remember the doctor approaching my bed with a grim look on his face. My attending nurse held my hand and even started tearing up. The doctor told me that there was a "mass" in my chest, between my lungs and it's called an anterior mediastinal tumor. He then said, "99% of the time it's malignant. I'm sorry."

From that point on it was a series of phone calls and referrals in a race to schedule a surgical biopsy to quickly determine what type of cancer it was; a lymphoma or a thymoma. I remember a female resident doctor in the room with my Thoracic surgeon saying, "let's home it's Hodgkin's Lymphoma. It's very receptive to treatment." My surgery was scheduled for March 31st. I was to now wait 5 days in nervious anticipation. After that, it would be a few more days for the results of the biopsy to return. I was scheduled to return on April 6th to see my new Oncologist to get the results. The day finally arrived and my husband and brother attended the appointment with me. My Oncologist walked into the room, introduced himself, asked me if I knew what I was there for (of course!) and gave me my diagnosis. It was Hodgkin's Lymphoma, Stage 1B. I was so relieved! My husband and I, to the utter appallment of the doctor, almost high fived eachother! The doctor was not used to this kind of reaction, but I was joyed to learn I had a cancer that I had a very good chance of beating.

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Brandi Mellinger

Brest Cancer Survivor
Ocean City, MD

My name is Brandi Mellinger and I am an 9-year breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed when I was 26, went through about a gazillion surgeries, chemotherapy, etc. My mother was also diagnosed at an early age, 28, and she died at 31. I was 11. Turns out my family carries a defect in our DNA that increases our chances for breast and ovarian cancers; either one could strike at any time.

* insert dramatic ‘duh duh duuuuuuh’ here *

It all started in 2002.

That’s not when I found the marble-like lump in my right breast, no one close to me died and my house didn’t burn down. It’s when I lost my job as a bartender. And I didn’t realize it at the time, but that’s when my life started to change. Little things happened, one by one, that made me start to think it was all happening for a reason — things DO happen for a reason.

Just hours after losing that job I was offered a new one because a local bar had fired a bartender the night before and needed a new one to finish out the summer. Weird, right? And person who got me the job was a woman I hadn’t talked to for months, but who, coincidentally, had the notion to call me that day to invite me to happy hour.

After about a month, I did find that damn little marble in my right breast. At the time, I happened to be dating a guy I thought would jet at the mention of cancer and all the glorious things that come with it. After all, what 20-something wants to watch his girlfriend go through surgery after surgery, seemingly endless chemotherapy treatments, hair loss, sickness, you name it?

This guy did. And with my closest family living about five hours away, he not only became my “family,” but he became my best friend.

I didn’t appreciate it, though. I don’t think I meant to, but I took advantage of him — I assumed he would be at every treatment. I expected him to come straight home after work to take care of me. I just knew he would be there and it never crossed my mind that a day would come that he wouldn’t.

But it did.

Because I was diagnosed with breast cancer at such a young age, and my mother had also been diagnosed very young, my doctors tested me for a gene mutation that goes by the name BRCA1 and BRCA2. It’s a screw-up, so to speak, in a person’s DNA that increases her chances of developing breast and ovarian cancer, especially at an early age.

And I tested positive for it. BRCA1, to be exact. Which is why I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy just two weeks after my diagnosis, rather than simply have the lump removed and play a waiting game for the next lump to pop up.

I had immediate reconstructive surgery, which consisted of painful weekly saline injections into “tissue expanders” in my chest that were making way for saline breast implants I would get later (not nearly as fabulous as Hollywood implants). And I had four chemotherapy treatments — just to “make sure” — that resulted in almost immediate hair loss and energy loss.

And then, because life is awesome, a whole new set of doctors found a whole new set of issues — specifically, a brand new, potentially cancerous cyst on one of my ovaries during one of what had since become monthly check-ups to monitor me for ovarian cancer.

I celebrated my new discovery by breaking up with my boyfriend. Told him, “You know what? Maybe I should take this one on alone.” (I’ve realized I’ve never heard anyone call me “smart.” Cute, maybe. Not smart.)

Here’s what I realized:

At 26 years old, I worried a lot about money and car payments and phone bills and rent and how clean my house was and how perfect I looked and how people looked at me and all the things people get so wrapped up in without ever even thinking.

How stupid.

I know it’s cliché, but I take one day at a time now. I don’t worry about the future because I don’t know what’s going to happen. I don’t know how much of that future I’ll even get to see. I do the stuff that makes me happy now.

I saved an e-mail my grandfather sent me a while back, and this is a portion of it:

“Things aren’t always what they seem … Sometimes that is exactly what happens when things don’t turn out the way they should. If you have faith, you just need to trust that every outcome is always to your advantage. You just might not know it until some time later.”

If I could have had it my way, I would have never left that first job. And things would be so different. Cancer would have been completely different. Who knows what my life would have become, how I would have handled it?

I think those things happened for a reason. And I’m certainly not bitter about battling cancer. It was an eye-opener for me and my family — we learned that BRCA1 and BRCA2 do exist, and we are all at risk for carrying that gene mutation. I think I was strong enough to handle the diagnosis at the time, and to be quite honest, I think I needed it the most, given the way I had let the most important things in life drift away without ever really knowing that I had.

Though cancer certainly changed the way I thought about most things, it didn’t change me in the same way if often changes some survivors. I didn’t immediately join the “Let’s Squash Breast Cancer” Army, support groups still make me anxious, and if I’m being completely honest (and why not? Being honest online never hurt anyone …), I can’t stand the thought of wearing a pink ribbon. Telling my story without being asked a specific question scares the bejesus out of me. In fact, telling this story literally took years. It’s be written and rewritten, then hidden on my hard drive for another few months … over and over and over again.

I’ve been called selfish and arrogant and lots of other things (I prefer "Pink Ribbon Rebel). But it’s not like I volunteered for cancer, or to be a spokesperson when all was said and done. I got it when I truly believe I was strong enough to handle it, I went through the necessary therapy and now I’m back in the game. Kind of like spraining your ankle.

In the past year, though, a few things have happened to make me rethink how I view my past. My story could have an impact on another young women who was diagnosed at an early age. My efforts could help fund research for a cure. I could make a difference. Who knows?

So I decided to have my own group — the Pink Ribbon Pinups. A fundraising group that still supports beast cancer awareness, but that does it in a way that young women realize they are at risk just like older women. And that it’s ok .... they can still be beautiful and fun.

And naturally, we wear pink.

One of my favorite authors is Jennifer Weiner. She wrote a book called “Good in Bed” that, although didn’t turn out to be about what I thought it would (ahem …), did make for good reading. In it, she wrote this:

“Things don’t always turn out the way you planned, or the way you think they should. There are things that go wrong that don’t always get fixed or put back together the way they were before. Some things stay broken. You can get through bad times and keep looking for the better ones, as long as you have people who love you.

“Things happen, you know? Things happen and you can’t make them un-happen. You don’t get do-overs, you can’t roll back the clock, and the only thing you can change — and the only thing it does any good to worry about — is how you let them affect you.”

So will my Pink Ribbon Pinups make a difference in the ginormous world of breast cancer? Who the hell knows? But it’s worth a shot.

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