October will always have special meaning for me because it is the month I took action on some horrible news that ended up changing my life for the better.
I had something called ductal carcinoma in situ, or DCIS.
It was a very early form of breast cancer. Because of my history and my risk, I made the decision to have a mastectomy on my right side. In the words of friends, doctors built a better boob for me.
The surgery, which moved belly fat to the breast area, lasted about nine hours. The physical recovery took four weeks. But four years later, I still get emotional about Oct. 9. It is not just the day I took on cancer; it is the day that marked the beginning of a personal effort to be better about living.
When I heard those words -- “You have cancer” -- my mind immediately went to the things I hadn’t seen or done. The people I hadn’t spoken with in a while. The list.
And then I wondered, why haven’t I made the time?
That’s the thing about cancer. It’s tough, terrible news. But it’s liberating, too, because it is a bold reminder of what’s most important, and that becomes your focus.
I worried less about the small things. I made sure to live large in the big moments -- trying to embrace each, not allowing them to pass me by as I had before my diagnosis. I call that prioritizing the right stuff, and with all the things competing for your attention, it takes extra effort. That’s why the more removed you become from your bad news, the easier it can be to fall back into old life habits. That’s when other people keep you on track.
This time, it was my co-worker and friend Tasha Stewart. She came over to my desk to ask if I might be interested in doing a story on her first mammogram. New to the experience, she hoped her own process would take the fear and the mystery out of it for other women. And she had a reason: Doctors recently diagnosed a good friend of hers who was just 38 years old at the time.
“You want to do something,” Tasha said. Her way of “doing something” was to focus on breast cancer prevention. She knows catching it early makes it so much easier to fight. So in her 40th year, she put her first mammogram on TV with the hope of sending that message.
“Breast cancer happens to so many people around us," Tasha said. "People you are working with. People you’re experiencing life with every day.”
Her words compelled me to have conversations with two of my co-workers who’ve had pink ribbon journeys of their own.
Meteorologist Sherry Hughes recently, bravely shared her breast cancer diagnosis with the Tri-State. Preventative testing found her problem.
“I’d like to say the strength I have on the inside, I own totally. But I feel my mom’s presence with me,” Sherry said. “And I feel God’s presence. There’s where my strength comes from.”
And she has people right at work who understand her path. Anchor Timyka Artist is a 14-year breast cancer survivor. She says pursuing the knowledge that can give a patient peace of mind, or the power to act, is so important.
“Fight like you know what – like H-E-double hockey sticks, and just do it,” Timyka said. “It is scary, but you have to know.”
I’m grateful Tasha took us along on her journey to know.
I hope you’ll join us for “9 On Your Side at 11” on Oct. 24 for a special piece this Breast Cancer Awareness Month on the pink ribbon stories right within WCPO’s walls.
But even more, I hope you’ll encourage a woman who you love to take charge of her health. Remind her that in this busy world, in her drive to take care of a lot
s of people and things, she needs to take care of herself first.
- If you are uninsured or underinsured (have high deductibles), Mercy Health has financial need-based assistance programs available to help. Call 513-686-3300 for more information.
- The University of Cincinnati is sponsoring a free breast cancer symposium from 9 a.m. to 3 p.m. Nov. 2. Click here for more information and to register.