I clearly remember receiving the phone call in May 2006 from my
doctor telling me that I had stage 1 breast cancer. I was home alone and
once I heard the word cancer everything else seemed to go dead and
muffled and I just kept hearing cancer reverberating in my mind. She
began talking about different courses for treatment. I told her I had to
call her back the next day so I could process the news I just received.
I immediately called my brother (who is a surgeon) and he basically
reiterated what the doctor had told me: that I was diagnosed very early
and that I would be fine. At that point I had to go into overdrive and
put mind over matter. You have to stay as positive as possible. In a
weird way you move into attack zone and aggressively conquer the
challenges that you have in front of you. One thing that I think really
helped me was working out. It was a savior for me. Even going into the
surgery, all the exercise helped to metabolize the anesthesia and really
helped to get me through it all.
Luckily, because I was diagnosed early I had a very good long-term prognosis. I chose the most aggressive course of treatment: a bi-lateral mastectomy. I had been in the Sloan Kettering High Surveillance Program for 6 years prior to my diagnosis, and I knew it was not if I was going to be diagnosed with cancer but when. Because I was being screened every 3-6 months I didn’t want to have to go through the continued screening process so I chose the most radical and aggressive treatment so that I would have no fear of cancer again. I did not consider stepping away from work. Work was my saving grace and gave me the opportunity to focus on something other than myself. At that point I realized that all I wanted to do was make women feel better about themselves. It gave me the chance to make something negative become a positive by speaking about my experience with breast cancer. I did a 2-step process because I knew I had to schedule some time off and I truly did not have time to set aside until September. So, I initially did a lumpectomy to remove the cancer and then in September, once my kids were back to school, I did my double mastectomy so I would be able to schedule 2 weeks of down time.
Getting a cancer diagnosis is no longer the death call it used to be. It can shake you up, but it challenges you to put on your bravest face and become a strong tough warrior who survives it all.
This is the first guest blog from Sonia Kashuk. Sonia is the President of Sonia Kashuk Inc., and is on the Cancer and Careers/CEW Foundation Board.