“My Voice” by Angie Sanchez

Angie Sanchez - 'Survivor'

Cancer runs in my family, though not in first degree relatives. My grandfather died of lung cancer. My second cousin on mom’s side was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 45, and died at 49. Herceptin wasn’t around yet. She was brilliant and young, I miss her. Her mother passed not long after from breast cancer. My second cousin was in his 20’s when diagnosed with leukemia. My second cousin on dad’s side was diagnosed with breast cancer last year she’s in her 30’s. My mom’s aunt died of breast cancer. My mother had cervical cancer. I was 49 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, but according to the doctors, I had probably had it for about 3-5 years. Now we are hearing about new proposed recommendations from a government panel to get mammograms every 2 years, OMG, are they kidding? After we know that mammograms save lives! How much about money is that? Sounds strange, but I was not surprised when the surgeon called with the biopsy results August 31st, 2006. Invasive ductal and lobular carcinoma he said. I’m not sure if I heard the rest after that.  However, I feel blessed that it was still stage 1.

I was 19 years old when I had the first lump biopsied. I had no idea what was going on, I was just going for a first exam by the gyn, and that was part of the exam. He said to my mom, “I feel a lump on her breast that should be biopsied.” My mom looked scared. I honestly didn’t even know what breast cancer was. The biopsy proved to be fibroadenoma, a benign mass. Over the years I would have about 12 more of those biopsied, most recently in September of this year. I go every 6 months for the mammogram, ultrasound and MRI, and I’m glad I have been vigilant.

Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I’ve had a lumpectomy, radiation, hysterectomy, oopherectomy, and taken Femara, an anti-hormonal drug, (that’s the only 1 of 3 medicines I can take-allergic to the other 2 drugs). I have been on and off of that for 2 years, it’s hard to take, side effects are not fun. I have chronic liver, and lung disease. I had a malignant melanoma, stage 0 and removed by wide excision. An arachnoid cyst in the cerebellum of my brain that’s inoperable, and that I pray never grows. Allergies, (to my dismay, allergies to pain medicine which happened minutes after my hysterectomy), and now abnormal heart rhythms, and pericardial effusion, (fluid in the heart sac), they say could have been brought on by radiation to the left side of my chest-though rare, or malignancy, or a virus. We won’t tap that fluid unless it grows, so really no way to tell what’s causing it yet. Not the best scenario, but it’s not in my hands.  Besides a heart drug that regulates heart rhythm, I get an echocardiogram every 3 months, unless I become symptomatic, and I don’t even want to think about what they have to do, though I know a few of the treatments for that. I can’t say that I’m not worried about how my disease processes will affect me, but no one knows. I have to be really careful of medicines, even Tylenol, and there are some I cannot take ever, as they are liver toxic, like Tamoxifen. I am concerned about being in pain, but hopefully if and when it really gets bad, they’ll figure out a drug I can take!

Nothing can stop me from getting up and moving. My granddaughter keeps me going! My bulldog keeps me going! Well, she keeps my wits about me, for sure! I have to sweep my own floors, and dust my own furniture, and run errands if I’m not too tired. I can’t have my son doing it! I walk slower on the treadmill than most of the people at the gym, but I’m there. I can’t do some of the moves the others in my yoga class do, but I go anyways. I like the peace it brings me, and just to stretch out.

I always try to think of the glass as half full. I am an eternal optimist, even when things are the worst. I have a son and granddaughter that I live for. I have a 30 year marriage to my best friend to take care of, and nurture, so I get up every day hopeful. I learned everything about strength from him, and he literally carried me sometimes. I have loved and lost too many friends and family to cancer, but I have lived a good life which I pray is far from over. I learned never to give in, and never to give up—thank you Silver Fox for that, and all my Pathlights family, you know who you are. Thank you to all my friends at BreastCancer.org for easing my fears during those first long months, and sharing your own stories so that I may learn. Thank you Dr. Lennox Jeffers, and Dr. Jolly Varki (you both saved my life those long first 3 yrs), Dr. Blanco, Dr. Avisar, Dr. Ojea and all the staff everywhere.

Survivorship is about the day to day, it’s about hope, and it’s about dreams. Sometimes it’s about tears and fears. You get up and put on your big girl pants and move forward, there is no yesterday, only today. Living in the past is unproductive. The children at UM Sylvester Cancer Center, they inspire me, and most especially my granddaughter who was born one year to the day my baby brother Lonnie Sean passed away. You sent her in on angels wings Lonnie, and I miss you more every day. I want to live to see a cure for cancer, especially childhood cancers. I have been “sick” with something most of my adult life, but I refuse to let any of the conditions define or confine me. Sometimes I’m too tired to do anything, but I always do something. When I lost my baby brother to liver disease in 2004, he was just 40. I wanted to give up my own fight, but I survived that horrible period, and survived the rest of my treatments. After losing him, not much else is hard to take.

I look forward to walks in the park, the smell of the ocean, lunch with friends, visits with my blessed granddaughter who brings me such joy, and peace. I want people with cancer to know that there IS hope in every small thing, and I want people who are caregivers to know that we need to feel needed, useful, and whole. I want people without cancer to know that you don’t have to tiptoe around us, that we are born surviving, and that this is no different. Let us tell you what we need, and let us do for you as well. Surviving is what I do every day, sometimes with great effort, sometimes with little effort. Time is all we have. Make the most of it. Give and give again. My name is Angie Sanchez, and I survive still.