Though it comes attached to some survivor guilt, I'm blessed to report that I am about to celebrate eleven years since my breast cancer diagnosis. My kids were ages 5 and 2 when a "lump" was found in my yearly exam. At the time, I was training for -- and determined to win gold in my 1x (single scull event) at -- the USRowing Masters National Championships in Long Beach, California. The lump was found July 25th, but a diagnostic biopsy couldn't happen until August 27th, because of a staff vacation and my family's vacation. During the ultrasound - shortly after the yearly exam - the tech told me that there was, indeed, something unusual. And, that there was a 50/50 chance it could be cancerous. (No research documentation to support that, but a fair guess.) Other than appointments the following couple of days, the office was booked out until mid-to-late August.
Since I'd trained for and planned to compete in this big rowing event a couple of weeks later, I was advised to "Go...have a wonderful vacation with your family, and we'll see you in August." Great. That's brilliant. Yeah, I won't think about this. AT. ALL. Since the venue was in Orange County, , and I had "littles", my husband and I had decided to combine the event with a family trip to Disneyland. "It'll be so great!" I thought...Until we got there, and I soon realized that trying to make weight (I raced the lightweight category, at the time.) while keeping my training up AND wandering aimlessly around a huge adventure park with a toddler and 5-year-old, in the heat, was exhaustive, at best. Nonethless, I raced in several boats throughout the regatta weekend, and really had a great time. Medaled in most multi-seat races, except for one.
Then, it came time for the "prelims" of my singles event. I had so much adrenaline that morning that I pushed hard -- too hard -- and took 1st. (Top 3 in each heat to qualify.) You might imagine what happened in the Final. I tanked. As hard as I tried to stuff it back down inside, the emotion of that unknown ultrasound rose to the surface with a vengeance just before the race. I started out strong, in 2nd place. Then, I did everything I'd been trained to avoid. I looked around me. I watched others' calm, smooth strokes. I looked down at the speed coach I wasn't accustomed to using during races. And, I ended up in 5th Place. I was devastated. Crushed. I'd been at the top of my game physically, emotionally, mentally. And, one medical appointment caused me to forsake it all. Medical diagnoses can cause some serious psychological strain. They cause us to doubt. To fear. To forget what we know to be true. To lose our footing. And, to forsake the world around us, for a time.
That's where my caregivers came in. My support system was wonderful. My husband was a rock (who, incidentally, knew too much, being a physician). Though we'd only lived in Denver for two years, folks who were mere acquaintances came to our aid. My parents found a way to winter nearby, staying at the home of a retired minister and his wife. Other school parents and a few loving neighbors cooked for us, cared for our kids, drove Mara to/from piano class and juggled helping her daughter and mine (thanks, Jen!) God had sent us these angels in our time of need, to help ease the burden. They were wonderful, and we couldn't have survived without the village. I vowed then that I would find a way to repay their generosity, at some point in my life. I wanted to spread that same light and love to others in similar circumstances -- caregivers and care receivers, alike.