This has the potential to be a very long post. We’ll see how this goes…
Of course, no one ever wants to get cancer. I’m sure most people would say there’s no good time to get cancer. But I have to say, I disagree on that one. If I had to get cancer, I don’t think it could have come at a better time. I’m so thankful that my diagnosis came after Turner was in kindergarten, having to get him to and from preschool would have made my schedule much trickier. I was diagnosed at the beginning of the school year, which was also good. The only part of my treatment that I won’t finish before they’re out of school is the final surgery of my reconstruction, and that can wait until September if I choose. I’m so fortunate that I hadn’t gotten a job, full time or otherwise. Staying at home gave me the opportunity to head to the doctor appointments and nap while the kids were at school so that I could try to keep things with them as normal as possible.
I think that staying active during my treatments really helped me. I have to imagine that it probably improved how I dealt with the treatments, even if it didn’t make a difference in how those treatments affected the cancer. Two years ago, I wouldn’t have been able to stay active during the treatments though, as the most active thing I did was chase around toddlers. I’m not saying that’s not work, but it’s just been in the past couple of years that I’ve started running and working out in earnest. God knew what my body would have to go through, and made it strong enough to withstand months of poison and the physical effects of surgery.
But there are other timing issues that I would have never imagined were at work, even years in advance. When I applied to graduate schools, I was not looking for a cancer program, I merely wanted a program that focused on translational science—science that would quickly (relatively speaking) impact patients’ lives and their clinical outcome. Initially, Georgetown was not even my first choice, but the program’s affiliation with the Lombardi Cancer Center meant that most of their research was translational, and it was a very attractive program—no teaching requirements! Many of the labs focused on breast cancer, and I was drawn to that research. I began attending the Clinical Breast Conference where oncologists, surgeons, radiation oncologists and even researchers discussed especially unique breast cancer cases and which treatment courses would give these patients the best outcome. I quickly realized that I enjoyed the interaction with the clinicians and patients’ cases (though of course I had no interaction with actual patients) far more than I enjoyed the daily intricacies of lab work. Towards the end of my doctorate, I even got in touch with several breast cancer advocacy groups, hoping that I could use my scientific expertise to be an asset to their groups. I was never able to secure a position with such a group, and when Emma Clare was born, I was happy to be able to stay home with her.
Probably the craziest timing ever? The week after surgery I got a message asking me to get in touch with my graduate mentor, who I hadn’t heard from since just after my defense. That was just after a delightful discussion with my oncologist who had encouraged me to find a way to work with a breast cancer advocacy group, telling me that my unique combination of education and experiences would make me an asset to any organization. I was able to tell my mentor that I had a clean bill of health, no cancer remaining at all, and once I had recovered I hoped to look for a job with an advocacy organization. To my delight, she quickly responded that a researcher at Lombardi has started a volunteer patient advocacy group, and she thought I would be a perfect fit in that group. After talking with the researcher who runs the group, I’m looking forward to my first meeting with the Georgetown Lombardi Breast Cancer Patient Advocacy Council at the end of the month!
I don’t think that God gave me cancer. But I believe that he knew it would become part of my story, and I am amazed at how He arranged my circumstances so that I would be uniquely prepared to make a difference in the lives of breast cancer patients, doing something that I really enjoy.