“My Voice” by Debbie Cook

Debbie Cook - 'Survivor'

It has been a little more than 19 months that I received my 2nd diagnosis of breast cancer. On April 11th, 2008 the diagnosis was a triple negative,  invasive ductile carcinoma, Stage 3. This time it was more aggressive and I had a very aggressive 2 rounds of chemo and a mastectomy. Thirteen years ago I had been diagnosed with an estrogen fed type of invasive ductile carcinoma in the same breast.

The first time around I received a lumpectomy with chemo and radiation. I tried to handle everything myself, be super woman and just get through it. I was so busy reassuring everyone else that I was going to be ok, that I forgot to take care of me…That was the wrong choice to make for myself. The emotional toll it took on me was hard. This time around I truly felt that I was going to try to do things differently. I let people help. I asked for things that I have never asked for in my life. I was bolder and more forward ( in a kind way). I guess you could say that this time the experience was good for me as a person. I embraced the cancer instead of ignoring it.

I am the president and volunteer for our local hospital auxiliary. I was asked to be an adhoc chairperson for the special projects committee. I volunteer as an ambassador in the ER.

The day that I was diagnosed, I was meeting with the PR department of my local hospital to begin preparation for a breast cancer awareness fair for the hospital auxiliary. My mission took on a whole new passion with my diagnosis.

I went in to get my yearly check-up like I had so many times in the last 13 years. They did a digital mammogram and like usual I wanted to see my results. They let me and then I saw the spot. A tiny pencil eraser size white spot. I looked at the tech and asked” What is that?” she said she didn’t want to say until the radiologist looked at it. He did and wanted a biopsy. I think I knew right then what it was. I was in shock and I think at that moment I went on auto pilot. I had the test done and told them would they please put a rush on getting the result to my doctor, because it was Friday and I didn’t want to wait all weekend to find out. They did.

I went to my meeting and the hospital excepted my proposal. We went forward with the plans on the Awareness Fair. I left and went home. I sat and waited for the phone to ring. My thoughts were confirmed. I never thought that I would hear those words again. “It is cancer” I just sat there and didn’t know what to say. My world would never be the same. Fear gripped me like I had never felt before. My mind began racing, thinking about all the things that I would miss if I didn’t beat this.. I could hear something outside myself screaming. It was me…. I did not want to lose this battle.

2008 was the year of the mastectomy and devil chemo.  I had my first fair, it was devoted to helping people get the information that they needed to be a survivor. Our fair was a success. The local paper ran an article that spotlighted my story and all the local resource that are available came to serve at the fair. The wealth of information was wonderful.

With every step that I went through, from my diagnosis, the mastectomy, the emotions, the chemo, losing my hair, sickness, weakness, the testing, the surgeries and all of the community help with the support, the hair loss products, the prosthetics, and finding doctors and therapist. I used every avenue I took to guide others through the process.

I, myself, have finished my chemo and been declared cancer free. Yeah!!!  I began my reconstruction surgeries in 2008 and have begun to heal in all aspect of my life. The journey has taken me to places in myself that I would have not ever thought possible. It has pushed me past the points that I thought I would never go and has made me a better person because of it. I went through the pain and affects of the chemo. They were very difficult. The emotional toll of the physical aspects were very hard. Looking at yourself in the mirror with pieces and parts missing is frightening and devastating. But I am alive. That is very important!

My friends and family have been my rocks. I am a survivor who has learned from this. I can go farther than I thought possible. Bear more than I ever thought I would be able to,  I will endure.
I truly hope that with this experience I have made a positive impact on those around me.

In 2009, I endured 8 months of reconstruction on my breasts.  I have many times just wished I could have quit.  I grew weary of the many appointments and surgeries, 10 in all. I have not been with out an appointment or surgery in the past 19 months and I wondered constantly if my life will ever be “normal” again.  I remember just a few short weeks ago when I finally had the last of my check ups from my plastic surgeon, I came home, stood at my sink in the kitchen and look out over the valley, it was the first time I felt free, no appointments, no schedule, no one wondering how I am, no bandages, no stitches.  The first time I could just be Debbie, the person. It is my new normal and I am very grateful for it.. Even though it was a long and tough process, I would recommend reconstruction to any woman.  The benefit far out way the process.  One does not realize what Cancer takes from you until you get it back.

In October of this year,  I once again organized the Breast Cancer Awareness Fair at my local hospital.  As a result of the input from last year our Medical Office Complex wanted to be apart of what I had begun through the Auxiliary and the fair this year was amazing.  I had developed my profile site and every Doctor I used, agreed to allow me to link there sites with mine. I use that profile with my speaking engagements and health fairs here in my community.  I felt a great sense of accomplishment in that the entire community became involved with this years fair.  I began speaking and doing health fairs in conjunction with a cancer organization that covers all aspects of healing.

I have learned a lot about what is available to those in need by being active in my own care. Survivors in my community have a wealth of resources at their fingertips. But if you don’t know where to look it does not help.  I am able to bring that information to the people in my community that need it.  I am still volunteering in the emergency room at the hospital.  That is where I love to be the most.  Patients come in that are having difficulties with cancer and since the nurses and physicians are aware of what I do, they ask me to visit with the patients.  I love to sit and talk with them, making sure that they have what they need.  The thing that amazes me is that even though cancer is a very talked about condition, the most quoted statement is that ” no one understands what I am going through.”  I will forever teach those around me what I have gone through and share it with those that are going through it.  Physically and emotionally… It is so very important to communicate..
I am living my life with purpose. I am celebrating each day by making a difference. I am appreciating life’s trials not as something to hinder me, but as something to help me grow and become a more enriched person. I look at everything with new eyes, hear with new ears, and I have a level of compassion and empathy that allows me to be very discerning with the public.

I want to leave a legacy for my children and the people whose lives I have touched. But, more importantly I want to see that other cancer survivors have the best quality of life that their community has to offer them. I want to bring the resources to them. I am able to accomplish this with the volunteer work that I am doing.

Every time that I look into the eyes of a “survivor” the connection is made.  I would like for us all to have that connection…