Be not afraid. Life is full of bumps. Life is hard. No one ever said you could skate through without having any troubles. But what do you do when you face a difficult issue?
In December 2016, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s difficult. It’s difficult to handle; it’s difficult to talk about. It wasn’t something I was expecting. I had no reason to think I was at risk. But there I was.
The first word that came out of my mouth when the doctor told me was: “Seriously??” I was in shock. I still think it: “Seriously??”
But there was no mistake. I had to deal with it. I didn’t want to deal with it. But that’s where I was. I’d been thrown a pretty big bump. I didn’t know what I was going to do. I didn’t know how I was going to handle it. I live alone. My family is hundreds of miles away. I was going to need a lot of support. I had to figure something out, and I had to figure it out fast.
What I learned was, accept help where you find it and don’t be afraid to ask.
I hate to ask for help. I had to get over that. My parents brought us up: “Be independent, be strong! You can handle anything.” To ask for help meant you couldn’t handle it. This was different. Know that in life there are two-person jobs. This was a big two-person job!
I started to reach out to a few of my friends. The first had been a cancer survivor. I shouldn’t say “survivor.” She had it. She doesn’t have it anymore. She connected me with another friend who had it. She connected me with another friend who had it. It’s amazing: The cancer network stretches far and wide, and you have no idea until you’re in it.
Another call came from a friend I had met the prior year.
“What are you doing about surgery?” “I don’t know.”
You can’t drive yourself home from surgery. In fact, you’re probably going to need to be taken care of for a couple of days. As I said, I live alone.
“What are you doing?” “I don’t know.”
“You’re coming to my house, you’re going to stay with me for a couple of days, and I’m going to take care of you.”
Didn’t know her very well. Knew her kind of well. “Uh… OK.” You take help where you find it.
You gotta have goals. Very quickly I realized the timing of this was not bad as far as life goes. I’m a golfer. I like to play golf; I like to play tournament golf. The first Major tournament of the year was at the end of May. I circled that on my calendar. I am going to play in that event. I’m going to do everything I can to play in that event. That was my beacon through everything.
You’re going to have bumps. I was going along, the surgery was fine, chemo’s not bothering me. I had heard all those stories about how horrible chemo can be. I’m not having anything: I go; they give me Benadryl; they give me steroids; I fall asleep. It was pretty easy!
The chemo gods, the cancer gods, they said, “Oh no, no, no. Nobody can have an easy ride on this.” They threw me a nice, big bump. In week seven, I reacted. It was pretty scary. My heart started to race. It started pounding. My body started coughing reflexively trying to get my heart back into a normal rhythm. I felt like it was in arrythmia. I can’t tell you how uncomfortable it was. My blood pressure was through the roof. Suddenly all the nurses were in my station.
When I first had the problem, I called the nurse. That was the key word: “nurse.” She didn’t respond. I said it a little more loudly: “NURSE.” If it had taken a third try, everyone would have heard Debbie’s outside voice.
They gave me lots of drugs, and I start to recover. The doctor comes in, saying “We’re going to restart the chemo today.” I really didn’t want to do that. I really didn’t want to do that! But on the other side, I knew I had my goal. I wanted to play in the Connecticut Open, and I didn’t have a lot of wiggle room on that.
“What if I react again?”
“No one ever reacts again.”
Yeah, and nobody reacts in week seven, either. What if I’m the first?
Be not afraid. I put my hands in my doctor’s experience and continued the chemo. No incident. No incident the rest of the way.
You gotta have goals. On May 12, I had my last chemo session. On May 30, I stepped onto the first tee at the Connecticut Open.
It’s a two-day event. To give you perspective, when I’m shooting in the 70s, I’m playing pretty well. Low 80s, decent day. High 80s, not so much. Every now and then, when I’m having a really bad day, I’ll crest 90. Going into the event, I was going to be happy if I shot in the 80s. I thought it would be possible that I might be shooting in the 90s. And given the circumstances, I thought I might crest 100.
Be not afraid: I still played.
The first day I shot 86 and was ecstatic. I missed a couple of short putts; it could have been better! The second day, I knew I had played better, but I never keep the exact score in my head.
I finish; playing partners have said, “Congratulations, nice round.” “Thank you very much!” We get into the scoring tent; I total my numbers, and it’s 40-39. “What??” I look at it again; total them again: 40-39. That’s 79. I broke 80!
I’m shaking now thinking about how ecstatic I was to shoot in the 70s!!!
No matter what life gives you, you can get through it. No matter how hard it seems, you can get through it. How you get through it is your choice. How you manage it is your choice: It’s all in your attitude. Courage is not the absence of fear. It is the ability to move forward in spite of it. Living in fear is not living. It’s dying a slow, painful death.
Never give in. Never give up. Who do you want to be?
Our lives have changed, but what hasn’t is our fight against breast cancer. Visit Stop Breast Cancer for Life to get information on mammograms during COVID-19, read personal breast cancer stories, watch thriver videos, find resources and more.