“My Voice” by Lora Lee Boynton

Lora Lee Boynton - 'Survivor'

I am not a cancer survivor – I am a Cancer Warrior!

‘It is cancer I’m afraid.’ My surgeon laid his hand flat on his desk like a silent gavel coming down following a verdict.  Having already had cancer as a young girl, I never thought I would hear those words again.  I had done my time; my prison sentence had already been served!  But here I was 21 years later being told I had another kind of cancer now – inflammatory breast cancer.

Being told for the second time I had an illness that could potentially end my life had a funny way of putting things into perspective, and suddenly my priorities seemed much clearer.  I became achingly aware of things in my life that weren’t quite right.  Namely, I had a huge hole in my soul brought on by loneliness and I didn’t know how to fill it or make it better.  Facing this pain was a battle in itself, let alone surviving cancer.

My driving forces were my four beautiful sons. I have so much more to do in their lives.  I wasn’t going to allow breast cancer to get in the way.  Instead, I promised myself I was going to see breast cancer as my wake up call to get the most from my life and to correct the things that I’d been letting slide for too long.  I didn’t want to sweat the small stuff anymore – it had already wasted too much time and detracted from what was important.  Of course very much part of that was my relationship with my children’s father.  This is my family, and I would do anything to make sure we stayed together.

In preparation of treatment, I bought an arsenal of books believing knowledge is power.  Cancer once was hard enough.  Cancer twice was enough – no more – this was it!  I was going to run Cancer’s butt out of town for the very last time, and he wouldn’t be coming back in any shape or form.  I bought nearly every single cancer book there is and dutifully read them one by one.  The end result is that it nurtured my fighting spirit and gave me back the feeling of being a little more in control.

Shortly after being diagnosed, I sat shocked and dazed thumbing through pamphlets given to me by my medical team slowly realising that my world was going to change forever.  Even once the cancer treatment had finished, I would never be the same.  I read about how the chemotherapy drugs would most likely make me infertile once treatment started, sending me into an early menopause.  The drugs may also cause me to develop Myeloid Leukaemia, and I could suffer a heart attack as a result of the Epirubicin.  My bones may develop osteoporosis and there’s a threat of cancer developing in my womb as a result of taking Tamoxifen.  Not to mention I would lose my breast and have unsightly scars.

What I found most upsetting, however, was that breast cancer can return at any point no matter how long you’ve been in remission or cured.  Therefore, although I may be ten years down the line cancer free, I will always be looking over my shoulder wondering if that pain or bump is indicative of something more sinister.

I had to make a decision.  I asked myself if the misery I was about to endure would be worth it, and I easily reached an answer.  Yes.  Yes because this is life and I had to fight for it.  Yes because I have a family that needs me.  Yes because who knows what tomorrow may bring for any one of us.  I wanted to be here to find out.  There will only ever be one me, and I happen to like being me.  I wasn’t going to give away my life without a fight.

Nearing the end of my treatment, when I felt well enough physically, I decided to address my inner loneliness and emotional wounds and booked myself into healing and counseling, and began to find value from everything that has happened to me.  I realized I didn’t have to keep dying inside.  I did have options.  I could let go of resistance and let in the possibilities that my world has to offer.  By saying ‘no’ as I had done up to this point, I was being a victim; I was blocking and fighting against opportunities for growth and challenge.  By saying ‘yes’ to all aspects of my life, I was giving myself hope.

Many people believe the word ‘survivor’ suggests that either you live or you die from your cancer. For me, however, you are a survivor from the moment you are diagnosed no matter what the end result may be.  Through the changes and choices we are forced to make as a result of our diagnosis, we will never be the same again, and as such are survivors until we take our last breath.  That is why I prefer to say, ‘cancer warrior’ instead!

Personally, having cancer made me realize that life is about the journey – not just surviving or arriving.  It is about reconnecting with the wounded child inside, taking an emotional flat line, a desolate cell of a heart, and making it pound loudly again.  It is about bridging the past with the present, and about life and loving.

I am now three years cancer free and feel happier than I ever have.  I have published my book and continue to reach out to fellow cancer survivors as part of my own healing.  I no longer feel as lonely, and want others to know that they are NOT alone either.