Surviving Sheila

Have you ever been hit with some news that you felt turned your life upside down?

After a routine check-up, a lump was found in my right breast, which needed further investigation. My visit to my doctor confirmed that cancer cells had been found. This required more visits to the hospital. First for mammograms, followed by ultrasounds and several MRI core needle biopsies, during which cells and tissue were removed from my breast.

This was a horrific experience on many levels. At times, I felt like a child trying to be brave and not cry. My attempts at humor during the invasive procedures somehow made things less painful to endure.

I was officially diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma in the right breast and an irregularly enhancing mass in the left. I was faced to make a very serious decision. I can recall sitting in the surgeon’s office with my sister and daughter when hearing the news. When the question was posed as to what I wanted to do, I was speechless. Time and space stood still. My instincts told me that this was a time I couldn’t afford to take any chances. I was going to lose my breasts. Either that, or eventually die from this terrible disease.

I underwent surgery for a double mastectomy with a separate procedure to remove 11 lymph nodes (also from the right breast). I was fortunate to survive the most aggressive chemotherapy treatment relatively well. Fatigue was the show stopper. The medications provided helped to keep the multitude of other side effects at a manageable level.

A five-week period of radiation therapy on a daily basis followed. The end of the process was reason for celebrating. In the cancer journey, one always looks for the silver lining. There is light at the end of what seems to be a long, dark tunnel.

With the monumental amount of information out there, you must become your own cancer advocate. I read all the materials provided and asked an endless number of questions. Somehow, gathering information helped me to maintain my sanity—along with the feeling that I now had some control over what seemed to be an impossible situation.

Did losing my breasts make me feel like less of a woman? For me, that was a complex answer. Upon seeing myself for the first time after the surgery, there were no words to express my emotions. I had to accept the new me. It forced me to dig deep within myself to find courage, strength, and a tenacity to fight a disease I had not asked for. I decided to view my scars as my badge of courage in the battle against cancer. The entire experience has made me a stronger, more compassionate person than I ever imagined I could be.

I can certainly say that this was a real wake-up call. When faced with this type of challenge, you learn to appreciate every day, good or bad. My determination not to wallow in grief kept me forging ahead. The journey was far from easy, but I came to realize how lucky I was to be alive.

To this day, my heart goes out to those who are alone, without emotional support and nowhere to turn. Find the strength within yourself. My thoughts and prayers are with you all.

About the Author | Sheila Ortiz

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