“My Voice” by Alyssa Schiller

Alyssa Schiller - 'Survivor'

Let’s start out with my vital statistics – I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 29 in 2005.  I don’t remember all the verbiage used to describe it and haven’t cared enough to go back and look either.  It required that I have a mastectomy, chemo and radiation – I opted to have my ovaries removed to complete the package.  What I did care about was that cancer was trying to take me at the same age it had taken my father when I was five (my mother died a year later of a car accident when I was six.)  It was trying to take me away from my children, my family, and my life.

I was a young wife and a mother.  My husband and I had worked long & hard, side by side building our business from nothing.  I was a health nut, I worked out four times a week and my youngest son had never even tasted a soda pop.  Our kitchen was filled with only sprouted whole grain breads, organic fruits and veggies – you couldn’t find a label that had high fructose corn syrup on it.  So, to say I was surprised when I found my lump is an understatement.  Thankfully for me I had a great doctor who took it seriously.  We found ourselves going from zero to sixty in a week down the cancer highway.

I had had an early dose of tragedy in my life and knew what it was like to lose those closest to you.  I knew all to well the hurt that my husband and three children would feel.  I knew that I didn’t love my children anymore then my father loved us, but he still lost his battle.  I wasn’t going to win this battle because of how much I loved my life or my children – I surrounded myself with great doctors and did what they told me.  I set my mind that if cancer wanted my boobs- take them, chemo wanted my hair – you can have it, radiation wanted my skin – go for it, but I wasn’t going to lose being me for anything.  So I laughed, and joked, dressed up for the most menial appointment, continued to work, went out with my girlfriends, and had fun.

Once the initial battle was over the dust had settled – I was still alive. Only then did I realize that my journey had only just begun.  I had survived….now what?  I had made it to 30, I was boobless and bald – but I had made it…right?!  What do I do now?  How do I live my life to the fullest, appreciate everyday, make memories with my children, be a great wife…and be a survivor?  For the first time since my diagnosis I floundered.  I thought I would just be so happy to have made it that all of that would just work itself out.  I wasn’t prepared for the sleepless nights, the constant panic I felt with every little ache or pain, the guilt that I wasn’t doing this “survivorship” thing right.  How could you live everyday to the fullest and still live an everyday life? How did this “everyday is a gift” thing work? I was so exhausted from nights of worry & panic that I could barely make it through the day, let alone remember to be thankful for it.  I wished I had a book “Survivorship For Dummies,” because I was losing me.

I finally realized that being a survivor wasn’t going to define me, I was going to define it.  I couldn’t fit into any mold of survivorship that worked for anyone else.  I needed to make my own mold….. and I found me again.  I found a group of breast cancer survivors who loved their motorcycles as much as I loved mine.  I went on an amazing adventure up the coast of CA on Harley- Davidsons with Amazon Heart. I quit working so hard at trying to make memories, and just started to let the memories make themselves.  Survivorship for me hasn’t changed the fact that some days just suck, my kids can still drive me crazy, and my husband and I can still rumble with the best of them.  Does that make me ungrateful or unappreciative?  No.  It makes me real, and it makes me me.  I’ve survived a lot of things in my life,  and cancer just happens to be one of them.