“My Voice” by Tricia Keegan

Tricia Keegan - 'Survivor'

I was away from home on business when I found the lump one morning in the summer of 2005 while showering. There’s no history of breast cancer in my family and I found it quite by accident, I recall it took a great deal of determination and focus to get through my work and meetings that day.

I was fortunate that within three days I had had all the tests but even before the surgeon told me the news I somehow already know this was cancer. Those weeks went by in a blur and I just went on automatic as we often do when dealing with something so hard to comprehend. We had just moved to a new home and were in the process of settling in and decorating while at the same time I was working twelve hour days in a stressful but rewarding job that I loved.

A date was set quickly for surgery, and the surgeon approved my idea of a week in the sun away before facing what was to come. It was ironic that within hours of my plane arriving home I was checking into the hospital for surgery.

I don’t know what I expected from the pathology report as I knew very little about cancer but it still came as a huge shock to be told the cancer had already spread to my lymph nodes and was one of the most aggressive types being Her 2 neu-positive. However while I was still reeling from hearing this, I was thrown a lifeline which I clung to. My surgeon explained that only the week before my diagnosis a wonderful new drug called Herceptin had been approved for treating early stage breast cancer and it had completely changed the dire prognosis that generally went with being diagnosed Her 2+. I was to have six months of an aggressive dose dense chemo, two months of radiation and year of Herceptin followed by five years of hormone therapy and an oophorectomy as I was so highly positive for hormones.

I recall feeling very frightened even thinking of going through this, I knew nothing of what I would face and had no personal experience to draw on and the fear of the unknown was overwhelming.
The frustration at my ignorance of cancer and it’s treatments almost made me ashamed and despite my own fears I vowed right then to educate myself and research every spare moment in order to be able to make educated decisions on my future treatments along with my doctors.

I began immediately and soaked up info like a sponge over the coming months while I fought back aggressively against the cancer to try to ensure it would never return. I was also fortunate in finding two wonderful support sites in the Susan G. Komen and Her 2 support and learned much from the members there. In time, I would pass this on in my role as moderator on Komen to try to help other’s newly diagnosed and as scared as I was.

Nothing lasts forever of course and eventually my treatment was over and it was time to resume my former life which was to be as challenging in many ways as the physical treatments had been although I didn’t know it then. I was surprised to feel somewhat depressed and rejected when told I only needed medical appointments every six months. These feelings shocked me, I had longed so often for an end to treatments but now I was left feeling alone, and facing the fear of recurrence without my security blanket of the medical team watching me closely each week.

I was told while nothing could be as it was before cancer came into my life, it was possible to find a “New Normal” but I had no idea how to find this or what to do when I did and I strongly think more emphasis and support should be placed on the emotional impact of this disease on survivor’s after treatments rather than just the physical treatments as many doctors do. I was totally unprepared for the transition of cancer patient to cancer Survivor and while I cherish the title, with more help I know it could have been an easier experience.

I’m now four and a half years out and despite the occasional scare when the fears return, I’m doing well and am enjoying life as a Survivor. Cancer was never a blessing for me as many say it is for them but there’s no doubt it’s brought some wonderful people into my life and taught me I’m a lot stronger than I thought I was before this disease struck.

Once you’ve had cancer you can never be completely free of it while the risk of recurrence remains but I’ve learned to file the fears to the back of my mind and never dwell on what may or may not happen in the future.

I definitely have a greater appreciation of my life and try to make each day count.
Since my own diagnosis there have been even more drugs made available for Her 2 positives and I feel the targeted therapies like Herceptin will be the treatment for the future for all and may even lead to a cure one day. I’ve learned to face the future with confidence that this drug (affectionately known as our Vitamin H!) really has been responsible for saving many lives including my own and am proud to be a Survivor and hope to Livestrong for a long time yet!