When my very first mammogram revealed stage IIIC breast cancer, I was dealt the shock of my life.
My mother died just seven months after she found out she had lung cancer, and I feared that I, too, would face the same fate. My case was rare for my small town in Mississippi, so my husband and I decided to come to MD Anderson, where we knew the specialized care would give me the best chance at survival.
Leaving home for breast cancer treatment was not an easy choice, but I knew my three children, who were all young teenagers at the time, needed me in their lives.
My MD Anderson care team actually collaborated with my local oncologist so that I could I receive my chemotherapy back home. But I had to stay in Houston for my mastectomy and eight weeks of radiation therapy. I ended up staying in Houston for three months. To make it work, I relied on my family, friends and community.
Here’s how I dealt with receiving breast cancer treatment far away from my family.
One day at a time
At the beginning of my treatment, I bought a calendar and crossed off each day that passed. A friend said that it would one day help me see how far I’d come and give me the strength to continue. It definitely came handy on the days I felt weak and wanted to give up.
Every day, my radiation oncologist, Welela Tereffe, M.D., and my husband reminded me that I was on my journey, not my mother’s.
Creating normalcy for my kids
My kids were really involved with extracurricular activities, so my main goal was to keep their lives as normal as I could. On the weekends, I got to fly home to catch some of their events. We also let them fly out and have one-on one time with me in Houston. They were old enough to go to appointments with me, and that way, they never felt like we were hiding things from them.
There were bumps and bruises along the way, and at different times, they were expressed their sorrow and frustration that I was gone. My husband and I both assured them that it was OK to be mad, as long as it didn’t lead to acting out.
My husband had the hardest job because he worked all day, carted kids around and made sure homework was done. My kids also had to step up to the plate and learn how to do house chores. And I received overwhelming support from my tight-knit community. My friends, kids’ school and church quickly set up a meal and carpool schedule for my kids.
Solitude and new friendships
To pass the time I spent alone, I went shopping, visited museums and spent a lot of time at MD Anderson’s Freeman-Dunn Chapel. I even went to feed the homeless a few times.
Some of my very best memories at MD Anderson are of the radiation clinic. I became friends with the group of women I saw there every weekday. We all sat around with no boobs and no hair. Eventually, some of us started going out together for coffee or lunch. We brought cookies and cake each time one of us rang the bell to mark the end of our radiation therapy, and we’d say, “Best day ever!” We turned it into a big celebration.
Even though I spent a good chunk of my breast cancer treatment away from home, the entire experience has brought my whole family closer than ever before. It’s shown us just how strong, loving and resilient we are, and it’s shed light on how much support we really have around us.
I’ve been in remission for six years now, and I don’t regret a single decision I made to make that happen.
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