This is the true account of a brave and courageous woman who offered to share her story as a breast cancer SURVIVOR to offer hope and encouragement to all the women suffering and needing a boost of support. We applaud Heidi’s strength and openness in sharing her story in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

On July 27, 2010, I dropped my kids at camp, spent a few hours in the office, had lunch with my students, and found out that I had breast cancer.  As the radiologist performed the second ultrasound following the third mammogram of my left breast, I asked him what he thought.  What he thought was already written on his face, but I still wanted to believe that this thing wasn’t happening to me.  “It’s Cancer – we can’t be a hundred percent until we do a biopsy, but it’s Cancer,” he said.

I drove home feeling very small and alone in the world.  Over the next hours, days, weeks, I found the courage to say the words out loud.  First to my husband.  I have Cancer.  And then to my best friend.  Next to my father and brothers.  I have been diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  The more I said it out loud, the easier it was to believe it was happening to me.  I have Stage IIB invasive breast Cancer.  I have to do chemo.  I’m going to lose my hair.  And then I’m going to lose my breasts. 

And then came the hardest day — when I had to say it out loud to my children.  My 10-year old cried.  My 8-year old took notes.  And my 4-year old asked, “what’s Cancer?”

And the more I said it out loud, the more I was surrounded by love and support that I could not have imagined – my husband and children and family, so many friends old and new, my colleagues, my amazing clients, my children’s teachers, parents of my children’s friends, my neighbors, other survivors I had never met, and doctors and nurses and receptionists.  I am so grateful to the many people who lifted me up and carried me through the next twelve months of baldness and needles and poison and exhaustion and despair.    

During those twelve months, I shaved my head when my hair started to fall out in clumps and I had a metal port surgically implanted in my arm so the chemo drugs wouldn’t burn my veins and I had surgeries and complications from surgeries and daily radiation for six weeks.  But I also went to Sea World with my children and I went on a yoga retreat with my husband.  And friends visited – to bring me food and flowers and to pack school lunches for my kids and to massage my feet.  And I was the Dalai Lama for Halloween.  And my dad flew out to take care of me, and I was his little girl again.  And I learned to live in the moment.  I took time for me and for my family.   I played cards with my son and read stories to my girls.  I held my kids when they were sad and when they were angry with me for being sick – and they brought me breakfast in bed and rubbed my bald head.

I am not trying to paint a rosy picture of Cancer.  My family has suffered, and I have suffered.  Cancer treatment is a miserable experience.  Right now, I am a survivor.   But I live everyday with the prospect of recurrence or metastasis.  And the reality that too many women are no longer survivors.  I worry about my daughters.  And my friends and their daughters.  When I told my doctors that I didn’t have any of the risk factors for breast cancer, they told me that most women who are diagnosed with breast cancer don’t have any of the risk factors for breast cancer.  I was dumbfounded – we still don’t know the risk factors.  So many pink ribbons – so much money raised for breast cancer research — and we don’t even know the risk factors, much less the cause or the cure for a disease that affects one in eight women.  There is work to be done. 

At the end of the day, though, breast Cancer has refocused me.  I’m not sure I could have heard it before I was diagnosed, but I will say it to you anyway.  Live in the moment – take care of yourself, make a difference in the world, and be with the people you love.

~ Heidi Rummel