One year after treatment for breast cancer, Janet St. James is still acutely and daily aware of the invader that attacked her body. Here, she talks about chemo brain, lymphedema, cut grass and other reasons to celebrate October Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
On my desk at work is a glass bell. It’s about six inches tall and makes a sparkling sound when the crystal clapper dangling from the top is jingled. It was given to me by dear work friends. At the end of chemo, I got the chance to ring a gong in celebration. Now, anytime I want to celebrate a victory, small or large, I ring that little glass bell and smile.
The bell is etched with two dates: July 30 and September 24, 2015. Those dates symbolize the end of chemotherapy and radiation treatment for breast cancer, respectively. They also remind me that October is a victory month for me. It’s the month that I was finally free from daily cancer treatment. Coincidentally, it’s also Breast Cancer Awareness month!
In the past year, I’ve celebrated many victories. I made it through a double mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, a complete hysterectomy and two reconstructive surgeries. My victory isn’t just surviving, but weathering it all with a relatively positive and realistic attitude. Forgetfulness from “chemo brain” still plagues me at times (I refuse to believe it’s from aging!) and I struggle at times with swelling from lymphedema after lymph node removal (though I have an awesome tattoo compression sleeve!), but I’m still in the “win” column.
Any victory I celebrate wouldn’t be possible without my family, supporters and survivors who’ve helped me along the way. Some with incredibly useful tips, such as using a wide-tooth comb so that I’d lose less hair during chemo, using a pillow to cushion the car seatbelt and covering an ice-pack with soft material to help with nerve regeneration pain. While I did not try drinking my own urine, as suggested by a stranger in a grocery check-out line, I did appreciate his well-intentioned tidbit. Got to say, I’d ring the bell for the last time if it came to drinking that!
I admit that I’m also still working on winning the mental battle. That comes as a huge surprise to me because I have always taken pride in my mental fortitude.
Not a day goes by that I don’t think about cancer. That I wonder if there is a single cell, hiding like a thief in my body. I resent the persistence of that thought, but am convinced that one day, I won’t have it. And, I will ring the bell when it finally dawns on me that I went a day in blissful forget.
If I could take that bell with me everywhere, you would hear me ringing it now for what might seem the strangest of reasons. I’d ring it when I smell the sweet fragrance of a freshly mown lawn, or when I notice a hawk soaring overhead, or see my children come through the back door at the end of the day grousing about wonderfully insignificant things.
Not a single day passes that I am not incredibly grateful to get up in the morning so that I have an opportunity to ring that bell. Not a single day. It’s a shame that this appreciation comes at the cost of a deadly disease.
I want you to ring the bell, too. Don’t wait until you have cancer to do it. So for Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I urge you to schedule your mammogram. If you have dense breasts, get a 3-D mammogram that can more accurately sift through the dark tissue and find the thief.
To make your annual exam more fun, Medical Center of Lewisville is hosting a Mammo Pajama Party with Solis Mammography on Thursday, October 20 from 5-8 p.m. You can wear your comfiest PJs, enjoy free food and drinks, win fabulous door prizes and get a ticket for a free chair massage or mini manicure when you register.
Just making the appointment is a victory. I’ll be ringing the bell, in your honor. In fact, I’d be happy to ring it for you in person when I share more about my cancer journey at the Texas Oncology Foundation 2016 Survive & Thrive Symposium. Please join me on Saturday, October 22, at the Sheraton Arlington Hotel for this daylong event featuring workshops, group activities and lectures focusing on wellness issues during and after treatment. I hope to see you there.
Medical City Healthcare joins Janet this October Breast Cancer Awareness Month to celebrate breast cancer survivors, honor breast cancer patients and remember those who have passed. We urge you to schedule your screening mammogram online at one of our Solis Mammography locations or any location that is convenient for you.
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Janet St. James is the Assistant Vice President of Strategic Communications for Medical City Healthcare and a former award-winning WFAA-TV reporter specializing in health, harried mother of 3 teenagers and a straight-shooting breast cancer blogger dedicated to helping people lead healthier lives.