“My Voice” by Liz Solorio

Liz Solorio - 'Survivor'

On September 4, 2004, my mother called telling me she thought my father was having a heart attack. When I arrived, I found him in his recliner not breathing. I began CPR while my mother called 911. Little did I know this would be just the beginning of my new life.
After four months of good days and many setbacks, during which I quit my job and lived out of town, my father passed away on December 30, 2004. I was busy taking care of legalities and my mother. She was scheduled for knee replacement in April 2005 and I had began thinking about returning to school to pursue my dream of being a nurse.

In March, I thought I felt something in my right breast. I saw my OB/GYN for an exam and he felt nothing. The mammogram showed nothing. The ultrasound showed a possible something, but nothing with irregularities. The doctors recommended that I wait 3 – 4 months and have a repeat ultrasound. My mother had her knee replacement and all her physical therapy. Mind you, had she not been scheduled for surgery, I would have pursued the something a bit more aggressively. I was just so tired from all we had endured. I scheduled the repeat ultrasound in June. This one showed the something had possibly grown. I knew right then I had breast cancer.

I found a wonderful surgeon in Oklahoma City and he didn’t think it looked suspicious, but complied with my wish for it to be removed. On Friday, July 15, 2005, I had the something removed. On Monday July 18, 2005 at 5:40 p.m. my surgeon called and gave me the news – Invasive Lobular Breast Cancer. I was mad. I was mad that I was now having to face another battle. Wasn’t watching my dad die enough? A follow-up MRI showed an additional tumor in the same breast which was lobular as well. After much research, I found that lobular had a high occurrence rate in the opposite breast within 5 years. Not with me it didn’t. I chose to have both breasts removed with immediate expander reconstruction. Now getting two doctors together at the same hospital at the same time was a challenge. Plus it was summer, so of course everyone had vacations. My surgery was finally scheduled in September. I was in the hospital less than 24 hours. Home I went to deal with drains and incisions.

I had worked as an office manager of an outpatient oncology clinic several years prior to my diagnosis. I knew what I was facing. I knew what oncologist I would use. I called and scheduled my own appointment with him. I had a port placed and was ready to fight. I knew the tunnel would be dark and I would have to focus on the end to get through.

Every other week I drove 45 miles to for chemotherapy and the opposite weeks 150 miles for expander fills for my reconstruction. I learned you don’t use a heating pad on your chest after bilateral mastectomies. I did this after having my first fill and my port placed. I ended up with 3rd degree burns and had surgery 7 days after my first chemotherapy. Throughout it all, I kept my eye on the end of that tunnel.

The Adriamycin/Cytoxin chemotherapy made me gain weight. The Taxol chemotherapy gave me severe bone pain. The fatigue is something that is indescribable. You won’t understand it unless you’ve had it. Friends would tell me what a great attitude I had and how amazed they were that I was doing so well. I wouldn‘t tell anyone just how bad I felt. I couldn’t give in. My mom and aunt came by daily and did my grocery shopping and laundry. My son was with me day and night – always right there when I needed him. My husband worked nights and helped during the day. I have always been the one who took care of everything and others. It was hard for me to accept help. Seven surgeries later for cancer and one pre-cancerous condition, I am living life to the fullest.

The dictionary defines a survivor as a person or thing that survives; specifically, a person who has survived an ordeal or great misfortune; a person regarded as resilient or courageous enough to be able to overcome hardship, misfortune, etc.

I am a survivor. I have overcome the hardship and misfortune of being one that a beast called cancer tried to make weak.

Being a survivor has brought me many fortunes though. I have made and met some of the most amazing women online who have ,had, or are undergoing or continuing their own fight. I have flown alone to New York to meet some of these women and spend a weekend with them. I have flown to Louisiana and spent time with friends who are survivors. This is something I never would have done before cancer. I have lost friends to this beast and I fight for awareness, research and a cure.

I have become someone who others know that they can call if they need to talk. To me, being a survivor is letting others know that it’s okay to be scared. It’s okay to be mad, angry, upset and depressed. It’s okay to accept and ask for help. Being a survivor means that I now have the knowledge to help another.

I am part of a group of ladies (who are survivors also) who make Hugaghan afghans for cancer patients. We’ve mailed them all over the world.

I am a four year survivor. I am a mother, daughter, wife and friend.

Nickelback has a song titled “If Today Was Your Last Day”. One line in it says “Each day is a gift not a given right“. That is so true.  Embrace each day and live it to the fullest.