When I think of the best year of my life, it generally revolves around happy milestones, including the birth of my daughter, the marriage of my soulmate, and even amazing travel experiences with my family or as a solo traveler. But, for one woman, the best year of her life was the year she was diagnosed with breast cancer. How was she able to put a smile on her face and look back in fondness on what should have been a devastating year? Keep on reading to hear her cancer survivor story.
Kathy Leonard can speak of it in her own words way better than I can translate:
“I go in for my annual OB/GYN appointment, and that’s when my doctor says to me, ‘Well, Kathy, I’m looking through here, and I see you haven’t had a mammogram in three years,’ and I said, that can’t possibly be right, I go every year and, sure enough, she sent her nurse to call down to radiology, and they said, “ nope, it’s been three years.”
So she tells her nurse – she said, “Go make her an appointment for a mammogram.” She looked at me, and she said, “And you, young lady, clear your calendar.”
“I had the mammogram, and I get the phone call, and they want me to come back, and I’m like, OK, when I’m thinking, like, next week or so. She said tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock, and I’m thinking, oh, dear, OK.”
“So I go back in tomorrow morning at 9 o’clock, and I go through a rigorous – talk about a mammogram. This was a punch biopsy. This was lay on the table with your boob through a hole, and the doctor’s on this little cart underneath you – it was the most bizarre thing I’ve ever been through in my life.”
“I left that appointment, which was about two hours long, feeling like I’d been beaten up and, uh, and then I waited for the results. And I didn’t have to wait very long.”
“The next day I’m sitting in my car, and my phone rang, and I looked at it. It said Woman’s Wellness Center, and I thought, uh oh. So I answer the phone, and I have my little notebook there and my pen, and she said, ‘Well, we have the results, very no-nonsense, we have the results – you have ductal carcinoma in situ in your left breast and invasive ductal carcinoma in your right.’ I sat there for a minute, and I didn’t know what to say, so I said, can you spell that for me? I hung up the phone from her, and I sat there and thought to myself, ’This is gonna be the worst year of my life.’”
“I wasn’t terrified of it, I just didn’t know. It’s a hard thing to think that you’ve been healthy your whole life; I mean, I would never have known that I had it, and, in fact, I was told by my doctor, she said, ‘You wouldn’t, even if you had done your breast exams (which I did, somewhat irregularly), you wouldn’t have felt a lump.’ This was not palpable. It’s odd to think that something’s really wrong with you, and you don’t feel bad, and you don’t see anything that’s wrong.”
“What I thought was going to be the worst year of my life, I began to realize, about a few months in, was going to be the best year of my life.”
Kathy also is very blunt about the diagnosis for any woman: “If you don’t get your mammogram, you won’t catch it early because I couldn’t have felt mine.”
Kathy headed to a Dallas conference after her diagnosis and before she went to surgery. She knew several of the women and shared her story about her very recent diagnosis. Several of those women, very beautifully and graciously, also shared their breast cancer journey.
One woman, in particular, even gave Kathy advice on nipple and breast reconstruction surgery – right in the bathroom stall with a “Do you want to see it?” attitude! Kathy almost wanted to touch the surgery areas before another guest swinging the bathroom door opened stopped her. Ha! No harm, no foul, and the management were never told.
Despite that awkwardness, Kathy had more conversations about nipples and boobs with complete strangers. In fact, she realized the breast cancer community was much larger than she imagined. She realized that it’s not just a woman’s story; it’s a story for men as well, including brothers and husbands and children, too.
She knew that if she opened herself up to the gracious and loving care of others, it’s a life-changing experience for the better. Additionally, the level of love and support that she received surprised her. One of her girlfriends even gave her a t-shirt that she wore on the day of her surgery that said, “Hell yes, they’re fake. The real ones tried to kill me”.
Today, she has small little things on the other side of it, but they’re nothing compared to the friendships, care, and love that she received over the course due to her willingness to be open. People do want to share, do want to care, and do want to be part of your life.
Kathy had a double mastectomy (she could have had radiation in one and the other removed but chose to have both removed at the same time) because she wanted her girls to be “twins.” So, she got her “cute and perkies” and, fortunately, her insurance covered them.
No big Dallas boobs for her; she went for an elegant, lean, athletic look. Wearing her best Claire Underwood dress to her consultation, she was surprised that it wasn’t a conversation. Finding herself in front of a blue sheet with her dress removed, she was horrified and humiliated, wishing she had worn a skirt or slacks. To level the playing field, she told the doctor that if he got “one hair on my chin in that picture,” she would haunt him for the rest of his career.
Loving her new implants, she’s extremely pleased with the fact that she hasn’t bought a bra in years – and doesn’t plan to.
Instead of feeling like a cancer warrior, Kathy’s take was a “get me out of bed and get me through tomorrow” vibe. For her, there was nothing that felt very warrior-like when following daily directions from her team of medical staff. There was nothing warrior-like about chemotherapy or laying in bed, unable to get up. For her, there was nothing about that, including the sickness that comes with treatment, that made her feel like she fought and won. She used to say, “Beam me up, Scotty. Get me to next year and get past this.”
Instead, she got through each day and put that day behind her. The way she approached her breast cancer treatment is now the way she approaches life these days. She doesn’t worry too far down the line and refuses to look backward. She deals with today, today.
Kathy was recently single when she got her breast cancer news. She put herself back into the dating scene and has met not only charming gentlemen but friends. She met the man she’s currently dating five years into the event with the best pickup line ever – he told her she looked like Princess Diana. Now, she and her current beau, Rodolpho, are two years into their relationship. “Considerably younger” than Kathy, he feels like he’s an old soul, which compliments her young soul. Let the best years continue filled with love and fulfillment.
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