31.34.51 – She says they aren’t her measurements. What are they then? Meet Dee Anne Barker. She’s a three time breast cancer survivor and those numbers reflect her age at each diagnosis. Today she shares her incredible story. Read and share.
Tell us about your diagnosis.
I’ve had breast cancer three times over the past 20 years. The first time, I felt a lump while I was in the shower that turned out to be malignant. The second time, the tumor was identified on a mammogram. One doctor thought it was nothing but a second opinion confirmed it was again malignant. This last time (yep, I’m calling it the last one!) I was diagnosed after I felt a lump late one night due to an itch I had on my breast.
I do not carry the BRCA gene mutations but was told that my breast cancer was most likely “hereditary.” I’ve had two aunts pass from breast cancer. All three of my cancer diagnosis were unrelated and considered new/primary cancers; a bit of a scientific bamboozle but one which has been treated with great caution and care.
How does one react to the news of having breast cancer time and time again?
The first time, I was quite shocked as I was only 31 years old and 20 years ago that was somewhat unheard of (so I thought). All of the elderly ladies in the back room waiting for daily radiation kept saying ever-so-sweetly, “Oh honey, you’re too young for this. We’ve all lived a full life, but you, it’s just not right.” So, I felt rather alone and decided to tell no one except for my family and a few close friends. Not the wisest decision, but I just felt embarrassed and betrayed with my body.
The second diagnosis, I took more in stride and was a tad more comfortable with the process so I opened up to a few more people. The treatment (surgical only) was brief so I sort of glossed over this one and didn’t really deal with it emotionally.
As for third, my world came crashing down on me. It was the most serious and involved cancer. I just recently finished two years of biopsies, surgeries, a double mastectomy, reconstruction, chemotherapy, Herceptin and now Tamoxifen. I continue to feel at times, like a stranger to myself on a deserted island. But, I strive to find the meaning and humor in it all. In a nutshell, I did not keep this one a secret and pretty much announced it to the world once I felt comfortable via Facebook, Twitter and my blog.
How has having breast cancer affected your well-being?
Clearly, I never had children and was told early on not to even try. My weight has fluctuated over the years but is on the rise thanks to Tamoxifen. But, as I say, “I’m alive, so what does it matter?!” It’s taken time to adjust to the ‘new girls’ but I’m learning to appreciate them more and more. My body and bones are full of aches on a daily basis but I’m learning to live with it and am gaining more mobility and a new level of activity as time passes. I continue to come to terms and am dealing with the lost of my breasts and the impact that it’s had on my sexual well-being. Not an easy path to travel, that’s for sure.
How are you writing your new story?
Well, this last diagnosis really propelled me to write a new story for myself in every way imaginable. And while many others do not understand the impact that this has had on my life, I am moving beyond those judgements and limitations and solely focusing on my own life’s purpose. Blogging and Twitter has altered my ability to reach out and get the honest and true support that I’ve needed. A few friendships were lost along the way which I believe cancer expedited what would have naturally happened. I now focus on my continued physical, emotional and mental health in a way that’s best for me. I will say that many people clearly don’t understand the long-term affects that having cancer has had on me. Albeit frustrating at times, I have just come to realize that they have emotional limitations that I will not allow to influence the course of my life. I don’t expect others to grasp what it’s been like to have cancer and to face your own mortality so many times, so I’m learning to just let it be without jeopardizing my own path.
You’ve touched on so many important themes: friendships, mortality, and emotional limitations. I hope we can revisit those in a future blog post! Tell me about any roadblocks you might foresee.
I’ve been to this rodeo three times too many and figure that if I can kick these cancers to the curb, then the sky truly is the limit.
You can read more from Dee Anne at her blog Cancer, Cancer bo-Bancer.