Finding Hidden Blessings in a Cancer Diagnosis

by GregP_WN

Our Guest Blog Post today is from Pam Arabian, she is a breast cancer survivor and a Voice of Hope Speaker for the American Cancer Society and Relay For Life. She describes her experiences of going from a normal day living her life, to living her life with breast cancer, and how she is finding hidden blessings in a cancer diagnosis. 

Pamela Arabian With Son Matt Before Treatment                                                                            Pam and her Son Matt

I was “officially” diagnosed with breast cancer on March 1, 2016. I say “officially” because before I even went in for my mammogram I knew something was not right. There really is something to that saying “A woman knows!” because I knew. I knew on December 26, 2015, when I first felt the lump in my left breast. It was a very unremarkable, lazy Saturday. The day after Christmas. I was getting ready to go to dinner with my boyfriend, Matt. 

As I was getting in the shower I felt something that definitely should not have been where it was. And I froze. Literally froze, one foot in, one foot out of the shower. As a rule when I think something is wrong I keep it to myself, until I am sure. Without hesitation, I called out to Matt and said “I think we have a problem.” Within seconds, Matt was right next to me, agreeing. 

After Treatments W Boyfriend Matt                                                        Pam and Boyfriend Matt (yes, both he and her Son are named Matt) 

After a bit of procrastination, I scheduled my annual mammogram for February 9. The technician told me since I had a “concern”, I would automatically be scheduled for a “diagnostic mammogram and sonogram” when my Dr. got my results the next day. When I called the Dr’s office the next day I was sure I was dying when the nurse’s tone went from being bothered to being sympathetic during our call. 

The day of the second mammogram and sonogram I woke up early, went to the gym just like I did every morning before work and arrived on time for my appointment. And this is where “normal” ended for me. I was at the medical center for almost 4 hours that day because the Dr. “had an opening in her schedule” and wanted biopsy my breast right away. For the second time that month, I was sure I was dying and everyone knew but me.

Pam At Last Treatment With Friend Julie                                                             Pam and her friend Julie during one of her treatments

I returned to the same medical center on March 1, 2017, with Matt next to me and a new Dr. who told me I had invasive ductal carcinoma, Stage 2. He gave me a few options for treatment and left me with the nurse. She and I spoke a little more about the diagnosis and treatment options. She assured me I wasn’t dying. What a relief! I knew going into that appointment that day I would not make a decision on lumpectomy vs mastectomy vs double mastectomy until I got tested for BRCA1 and BRCA2. I was 2 years older than my mother had been when she lost her battle with breast cancer. I was sure I had “caught the gene” from her. 

I gave vials and vials of blood for genetic testing to confirm that I did, indeed, come by this disease through heredity. A couple of days before my scheduled surgery, I got the call I had been waiting for, but not the results I had expected. I was negative for the BRCA 1 and BRCA 2 genes! When my friends and family heard the results they almost all said “Wow! Aren’t you relieved?” NO!! I was not relieved. I wanted an answer. I wanted to know why I had this disease. Genetics is at least a reason. I was mentally and emotionally exhausted and made the decision I least expected myself to make. I decided to have the single mastectomy.

Carrying The Hope Banner On The Field At First Energy Stadium At The Cleveland Browns Game October 9 2016                                                         Pam helping to carry a huge HOPE banner on the field at First Energy Stadium

Between April 18 and June 8 I visited the General Surgery of the Cleveland Clinic in Avon, Ohio 4 times. My wound site had gotten infected and needed to be cleaned, I had a port put in for my upcoming chemotherapy and I had lymph nodes removed from my arm to ensure the disease had stayed contained in my breast. June through September I had 8 chemotherapy infusions and in November and December, I had 28 radiation treatments. On December 16, 10 days shy of the anniversary of when I first felt “the lump”, I was done with my treatments. One thing that was consistent for me during those 12 months was I would not be sad or allow others to be sad around me. I learned to put my energy into laughing, not crying. Tears blur the beauty of life. Tears dampen laughter. Tears are contagious. If I cry, you will cry. If you cry, I will cry. Crying is exhausting. I learned that instead of putting the effort into tears, my energy is better spent being positive.

Chemo Port Numb

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The hardest part of fighting cancer was having to learn how to ask for, and accept help from other people. The hardest part of being a cancer survivor is trying to go back to “normal”. I have a new normal now, but it isn’t the same as what I had before. That isn’t to say my life now isn’t great because it is, but I have struggled through losing a breast, worrying about the health of the breast I still have, losing my hair, and losing my sense of security with my own body. I cannot count on my body to never let me down because it has. And it could again. This uncertainty and doubt are scary. 

But I didn’t walk around in fear when I had cancer inside of me, and I will not walk around in fear now. My prognosis is a long, healthy, cancer-free life. And while I do not believe that attitude can necessarily change a diagnosis, I believe it has everything to do with affecting a prognosis. And my prognosis is great! I have to take Tamoxifen for 5 years. This will lessen the chance of reoccurrence in the breast I chose to keep. Mentally, this is reassuring. Emotionally, it is not. At least not this early post-treatment.

Cancer's New Normal

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I have been blessed so much more than I could have ever imagined. I won’t be able to list all of the positives I have experienced on this journey. I had friends I hadn’t seen in over 20 years drive to my house to bring me dinner while I was recovering. I never went to a dr appoint or chemo infusion alone. Actually, I had friends and family offering to the point that I couldn’t possibly say yes to all the help they were offering me. I made friends with my nurses, who referred me to American Cancer Society’s Look Good, Feel Better, and I made more friends with American Cancer Society’s workers and volunteers at Relay for Life events, which led to speaking about my Look Good, Feel Better experience at a volunteer summit with over 200 ACS volunteers present. I participated in pre-game activities at an NFL game in “Pinktober”, Ford Motor Company gave me the gift of a clean house through their Warriors in Pink “More Good Days” program along with Cleaning for a Reason. I now call the ladies who came to clean for me during my treatment friends. And now I volunteer for ACS as a Voice of Hope and as a 4th Angel for The Cleveland Clinic. These are what I call my “Blessings of Cancer.”

At Relay For Life First Time Telling Story

I am not sure what the future holds, but whoever is? In August 2017 I completed my Bachelor’s degree and I am registered to begin graduate school in January 2018. I will get to see my only child get married in June 2018. The only other thing I know for sure is I will help as many cancer survivors cross the finish line of their treatment as I can by sharing my story and spreading HOPE. Everything else I am taking one day at a time.

Do you have an inspiring story of survival over cancer? Contact us to see how you can share it to motivate and inspire thousands of people who will be diagnosed with cancer in the future. Email Us for more information. 

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