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Carol B. Preisler: Cancer journey involves embracing the new me

It’s been three years since the landscape of my body changed. Breast cancer is still rampant.

My mirror whispers, “… still beautiful.” As are the 12 women whose hands I held in those dark days, literally and figuratively. Hopefully, I can pay it forward, sharing their strength one day.

Although feeling fragile, I was eager to hear every detail of their journey. I played their words of encouragement over and over in my mind. They walked with me in spirit, each time I stepped into the hospital. At low tide, I cried for them as much as I cried for me. But the view changes daily.

Seeing myself that first night was startling. I knew what to expect, and yet do you ever really “know”? I removed the wrappings, grateful to be alone. So be it. “Buck up, girl.” Perhaps, I should toss my tank tops. Or perhaps one day I’ll be brave enough to wear them. I needed a little time.

My journey has involved embracing the new me. No regrets about my decision. My doctor’s advice was succinct. She gave it with a bear hug. Each woman finds her own right thing to do. Women whom I would never expect to sail my seas have come aboard. Each one experienced difficult decisions, stress and fear. What one really learns is that you have to fight. And do it well.

There are far too many of us. An X-ray technician inquired if I had a breast cancer tattoo and offered to show me hers. Another woman I know has “Survivor” written around her wrist. It’s under her watch. Perhaps she only shares the view with those who will understand. My tattoo awaits design.

Life does go on. You try not to miss a beat. People who become seriously ill often express a new appreciation for life. Having always embraced my blessings, I sought to find what I needed to learn this time. I “listened” to hear what was on his mind. I believe God loves me. And so, each day I live his plan.

I found that along with my encouraging friends, a positive attitude was going to help me through. I started driving my car as soon as I was given the OK. Sadly, after a few errands, my chest was on fire. I kept driving. Christmas was just around the corner, and I needed to finish shopping. Quitting was not an option.

New, bulky knit sweaters eased my return to work. I felt the more I covered up, the less freaked out I would be. The layers helped my brain accept the stares, and hide the emotional pain underneath. I could pretend everything was just fine. And I did just that. I should get an Academy Award. So should all of my bosom buddies.

There are many beautiful women at Roswell Park. There was a stunning young woman in a cloche hat, and others with baby fine hair. Sometimes we chat for awhile, and agree that the waiting room is often more tolerable by yourself. Perhaps it’s the sisterhood. Perhaps it’s a time to reflect on the fact you are indeed alive. I cannot think of the ladies I meet without a deep sense of compassion and kinship.

We are survivors, but I don’t care for that word. It makes me think of the television show. No disrespect intended, but it just doesn’t sound right to me. Perhaps we should be called breast cancer endurance champions. Extraordinary women simply trying to live our best life. Breathing. Believing. Hoping.