Until I was confronted with the devastating diagnosis of breast cancer, I strove to interweave the many demands made upon me as wife, mother, and family nurse practitioner. With a husband, three kids, and three dogs, life in our household was generally chaotic, and I often longed for respite from the constant din surrounding me. Despite my love of family and job, I occasionally cursed the years of graduate school that prepared me to take on the constant stress to which I became subjected. I wanted a change, like winning the lotto, but winning the breast cancer lotto was not the change of which I'd dreamed.
In short order, I catapulted from the comfortable role of health care provider to health care recipient. Role reversal proved difficult to accept, but as I faced my own mortality, I began caring more deeply for patients who sought my help. I finally understood their frustrations in being subjected to symptoms of disease over which they had little control. I armed them with information to help them regain some control over the course of their illnesses. I struggled to provide good patient care despite limitations imposed by managed health care companies and the frustrations of working in an office inadequate to the task of meeting the challenging needs of our burgeoning patient population.
As a health care provider, I decided that conventional therapy offered my best chance for survival, but I faced treatments with extreme trepidation. Like most facing chemotherapy, I was concerned about side effects, and I studied the pros and cons of conventional and alternative therapeutic options. Instead of morbidly focusing on my trials, however, I concentrated on appreciating life. I sought ways to compensate for my loss of good health.
I worked during my treatments. It was often difficult, especially when patients faced life-threatening illnesses as I did. I rallied between treatments as best I could, although fatigue and other side effects seriously impeded my efforts. As my health deteriorated during chemotherapy and radiation treatments, my self-confidence and emotional stability eroded. With the help of family, friends, and patients, I moved forward.
After treatments ended and side effects waned, I vowed to put cancer behind me. However, it is never completely forgotten. Those who suffer from breast cancer know there is no guarantee of cure; the possibility of return is ever present. But life can be spectacular after breast cancer, especially as self-confidence and emotions stabilize. I have learned to accept my illness and enjoy life on a daily basis.
Why Not Me? is the story of my surgeries, my therapeutic options, and my dealing with cancer - not always a pretty sight. Although the book is non-fiction, it is written more like a novel - a diary of my fight for my patients and myself. In it, I acknowledge the mood swings and bouts of depression that follow such diagnoses. Since humor is such an integral part of my life, I add a bit of that as well. Breast cancer is never funny, but incidents in my life have been, and I included many to ease the burden of reading about so serious a subject. The best part of my having cancer was discovering the strength that came from the love of many friends and my wonderful family.