If you met me today you wouldn’t have any idea that I lost my eighth rib and that my spine had been reconstructed with rods, brackets and several cages. While I will never wear low V-back dresses again or take up golf or skiing, I am healthy and life has never been better. At 68 years of age, I box with a trainer, hike, swim, dance and can walk 8 hours a day through museums and the streets of Europe and have been cancer free for 11 years.
If we met, you would never know that I experienced five years living in a coffin of pain (a residue of having a type of multiple myeloma, and a tumor removed with my back totally reconstructed). There were many difficult choices I made to stay alive after the radiation and chemo didn’t work.
There is no true formula to survival as many have tried and sadly lost their battle. But here is what I decided to do. My formula started with a deep love and desire to stay alive for my children. Jenny was in law school and Jackie was a sophomore at a private university in San Francisco. Both girls depended on me to assist them while they were attending school. As a single mom and sole supporter, my six-figure income was going out as fast as it was being made. My partner Roger and I had just reunited two weeks prior to my cancer diagnosis. I couldn’t imagine dying. However, my years of chronic stress had taken a toll and I was dealing with plasmacytoma with amyloid and was told I might be paralyzed within a year.
The obstacles were numerous in those months following my diagnosis. My journey was a meandering path of disappointments when the results showed the radiation and chemo didn’t work. The pain was never ending; I became addicted to different narcotics that were needed for pain. In addition, I couldn’t find a surgeon in the valley that was willing to operate. One surgeon said it was too difficult to remove the tumor and the reconstruction of my spine was very complicated. The cells in my back were compromised by the radiation and he doubted my tissue would heal properly. He worried the site would become infected.
I encountered many people who stepped into my path to assist me along the way, proving to be devoted and loving supporters. They included acquaintances from work, good friends, and various volunteers, a Qigong Master, a mentor, an advocate, my best friend Sandra, my sister Donna and Roger.
My attitude, thoughts, faith in a higher power, diet and actions played a crucial part in my recovery. Knowing my choices were dwindling, I did find a thoracic spine surgeon, a neurosurgeon and a plastic surgeon who completed a 10-hour surgery at MD Anderson in Houston. Removing the tumor and the shards of bone where my left eighth rib had been, they reconstructed my spine with rods, brackets and cages. I truly am the “Bionic “ woman!
The oncologist at MD Anderson informed me before I left the hospital, I would be on narcotics for the rest of my life and announced that I would have cancer back in two years. I would then need a stem cell transplant.
I decided to use meaningful steps and therapies that enabled my transition back to good health. My attitude and faith continue to play significant roles in staying cancer free.
Looking back, I realize that it truly takes a village to get through cancer. So when I met with PCSN, I felt an instant connection with them and the work that they do! They offer support, compassion and advocacy to those going through cancer, providing the same tools I found along my journey to survive. I am thrilled to be a small part of them by blogging about the things I did to survive while staying cancer free! In the weeks ahead I will share them with you.