The Best Lesson that I Taught

I am an 18 year survivor of breast cancer but…

When my doctor told me 15 years ago that I had breast cancer he was surprised that I wasn’t showing much emotion. But once I told him that my mother had it twice, 20 years apart, and my father also had breast cancer he understood why I wasn’t surprised. I have to add that my parents lived cancer-free for 87 and 90 years.

I was a high school health educator in New Jersey and my home state of West Virginia for 33 years so I knew the facts and figures about breast cancer and, in fact, I always had a breast cancer survivor come in to talk to my health classes. I also knew that there are no shortcuts in treating cancer. So, although my tumor was very small, my doctors encouraged me to do chemotherapy and radiation because of my strong family history.

So, I went with their suggestions and did both.

I actually saw it as an opportunity to share my journey through treatment with my students and colleagues and show them that cancer, especially if caught early, doesn’t have to be a death sentence. I wanted to turn a negative into a positive so I continued to teach throughout my treatment, just taking Friday and Monday off around my chemotherapy. I don’t know who benefitted the most from my presence – them or me. It was a “win/win” situation.

I had witnessed how my mother handled her diagnosis, not once but twice, with a conviction to carry on with her life and not let breast cancer define her. She devoted many hours coordinating a program in which she helped other survivors recover and live their lives to the fullest and I wanted to help in some way also.

I retired in June of 2005 and moved to southwest Florida on month later. So, after 33 years of teaching health education, I had a void to fill.

1 out of 8 women is diagnosed every year with breast cancer. 230,000 women (and 2,300 men) were diagnosed last year, 12,000 right here in Florida alone. We have to be the #1 advocate for our own health.

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