My sister, Nancy White, is my best friend. As opposite as we are in many ways, I couldn't love her more. She has made my life so much richer and beautiful. I cannot imagine a world where I can't turn to her for help, to laugh ridiculously out loud over something funny, or to share just everyday stuff.
Her diagnosis of breast cancer sent our family into a tailspin. How could it happen to somebody so good and kind and loving? But cancer doesn't discriminate.
I believe there is an extra burden placed on cancer patients because they often suffer in silence. Not only are they dealing with their own emotional and physical pain, but they are keenly aware of the impact their actions have on those who love them, who are also so frightened, and who can't bear to see them suffer. I am so in awe and humbled by the courage and strength of my sister. She, like millions of others, are the everyday heroes.
I'm starting a blog series that allows women to share their feelings on dealing with cancer. My sister's diagnosis was really the push for me to start Laurmé. It's too easy to let everyday life quash our hopes and dreams. Ultimately, for most of us, there is no perfect time to pursue our dreams - no time like the present.
So for obvious reasons I chose my sister as the first person whose story I want to share.
What was your first reaction when you were told you had breast cancer?
I started to cry and asked if I was going to die. Fear. Disbelief.What kind of treatment did you have to undergo?
Bilateral mastectomy, chemo, radiation, expander fills, repeat reconstructive surgeries due to complications.
How did you find the strength to go through the treatments?
Family support was huge, but I have always been a positive person. Thinking of my husband and kids pushed me through some really dark times.
What was the hardest part in going through the treatments?
Sometimes it was hard getting through the day, feeling crappy, fatigue, some pain, burning from the radiation. Losing my fingernails was tough. I hadn’t anticipated that. Running water was unbearable. It burned and stung. Something simple like opening a Splenda packet was painful and frustrating.
When my hair started coming out in chunks, I asked my daughter, who is a hair stylist, to cut it all off. That was really hard. And losing my eyebrows and eyelashes really threw me for a loop.
There were a lot of complications from surgeries because my skin was so compromised from the radiation. So from beginning to end, it was two years of treatment. Some days I really felt beat down.
How has this taken a toll on you emotionally?
Even though it’s been 5 years, there is a daily reminder I had cancer. Mostly side effects from medication and, of course, the obvious physical scars and reminders. I also have some memory problems, “chemo brain.” I still see my oncologist every 6 months and get a little anxiety before the visit, hoping my markers are good from the blood work. But for the most part, I’m just enjoying life to its fullest.What did friends or family members do that meant the most to you?
They stood by me every step of the way, took care of me after surgeries, went to doctors’ visits with me, brought me my favorite foods. A dear friend set up a meal chain with different people bringing dinners at different times. I’m not very good at being on the receiving end of help, but I couldn’t have asked for more and was overwhelmed with the love and support.
What would you say has been the most difficult part of this for your family and friends?
Sometimes I think the cancer was harder for my family. They felt so helpless at times. It was hard for them to see me in pain, all the issues with chemo and radiation. And it seemed like every time we turned around, there was another surgery. It’s emotionally draining on family members too.When did you want friends and family close and when did you want them at a distance?
When I was in pain or sick, I just wanted to be by myself. I’m a pretty positive person, but there were days that had me feeling low, and I just didn’t want a pep talk.What do you wish people would not have said to you?
I knew someone who was also going through chemo the same time I was, and after I lost my hair, she said “See, It’s no big deal losing your hair.” It was a huge deal for me, and her words made me feel bad for being sad that I lost my hair. It’s different for everyone.What did doctors say and do that meant the most to you?
They were great, told me I was going to be fine, that I was brave, strong and special. They never sugarcoated anything, but it for sure wasn’t all doom and gloom. They took time with me to answer my questions. I know they were really busy, but I never felt rushed.What do you think has been the most valuable insight you’ve gained from this experience?
I think just to appreciate time with family and friends. Enjoy life, appreciate it, and if the house doesn’t get cleaned on the weekend, oh well.