Some may put down the pink. But let’s be honest, breast cancer is 99% a women’s disease. What survivors choose to do to get through, survive, and celebrate is completely up to them.
I began with the Race for the Cure in Nevada eleven years ago as an individual participant. Through the years my participation has grown to forming teams, sitting on the race committee as its database chair and now, serving as the board secretary of the Northern Nevada affiliate of Susan G. Komen for the Cure.
The women I work with at SGK are a varied lot. But one of the things I love most about serving with this wonderful group of women (and men) is that when we are in a room together, all thoughts of political, religious or philosophical differences go out the window in our pursuit of a cure and assistance for those diagnosed with breast cancer.
A couple of days ago, the president of our affiliate received a letter from Dawn Saathoff, who wanted to share her story with us. I am so honored that she has allowed me to publish her letter. Don’t let the pink distract you. It isn’t at all about the pink. It is for Dawn, and others just like her, that we do what we do.
To: Northern Nevada Susan G. Komen
Sent: Fri, October 16, 2009 9:49:29 AM
Subject: October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month – My Story and I don’t want it to be yours
I have been having a hard time lately and feel compelled to write. So many people do not have a hard time communicating their feelings to me and for some reason I don’t feel like I should voice mine. But I am today – please all women in my life and the women in your life – do your monthly self-breast exams. I have been told well I got my mammogram – I’m safe….. but please read what happened to me….
March 2008 – I just turned 38 and I had a pain in my breast and felt it and kept feeling for it, is that a lump or is it my imagination? I made my husband at the time feel it too. It was tiny and I had a much larger cyst removed from the same breast when I was 18, so I wasn’t too worried. I had plans to go to my best friend’s wedding in Canada and told my family I would get it checked out when I came home. I had a wonderful time seeing my Liz get married and I came home to face the music. My Doctor could barely feel it and asked how I found it. I told her it hurt; she told me (and so did research that I had done) said Cancer does not hurt. But she booked me a Mammogram and Ultrasound right away to make sure I was OK.
I went to the Mammogram – surrounded by women not my mothers age, but closer to my grandmothers age. I keep thinking, why is this happening to me….. I go in for the Mammogram – always so much fun (this is my second, so I know what to expect). The tech tells me she is going to check my films and she puts me in a holding room by myself. I am now wishing that my mom was with me and I was not alone. The tech comes in and says my films are clear and the lump is not detected. Now what?? She tells me they are going to send in the Ultrasound Tech shortly to scan the spot to make sure. The Ultrasound tech comes in to get me, puts me on the table (I’ve had many ultrasounds and am familiar with the drill – I have been cursed with many female problems and had to have a complete hysterectomy and oophorectomy in 2002). So I show her the lump – she has a hard time finding it too. Am I nuts….I think to myself again. She scans the area and excuses herself to get the radiologist. He comes in and states it is a solid mass, which means there is a chance that it could be Cancer….. Just hearing the “C” word puts me into a panic, I did not think I would hear it – not before knowing for sure…. So I get dressed and leave. I call my Mom immediately, she reassures me to stay strong and that we have to be positive.
My surgeon does not believe it’s cancer, but says let’s take it out to be sure… So he does and I am recuperating at home and he calls. All I hear is, Dawn I am so sorry, but it is cancer and I suggest that you have a mastectomy……I hear nothing after that, he is talking, but I keep thinking NO he did not just say that to me….did he? I get off the phone and call my husband – he starts crying and says he is on his way home from work. I call my Mom and we both break down, she says your Dad and I are getting our bags packed and getting in the car to head up to Reno from Las Vegas right now.
After much research and medical consultation – I have to make a choice. A lumpectomy that will leave me horribly disfigured (because of the margins of my cancer) and then that will require radiation (which ruins your skin and can damage other organs) and then with the lumpectomy there is the possibility of Chemo which is a real strain on all your organs…. or I can choose a right side mastectomy (which will probably eliminate radiation and maybe chemo too)…. Why do I have to make this decision? Why is this happening to me? I’m 38, I have 13 & 7 year old daughters, this is supposed to happen when they are grown…. I choose the mastectomy, this has the best rate of survival and I am determined I am going to live to raise my girls. I also have to mention my dear sweet Maternal Grandmother is diagnosed with Stage 4 Pancreas and Liver Cancer within weeks of my diagnosis….Why is this happening to my family?
A week before my mastectomy, my husband gives me the 2nd worst news in my life. He gets fired from his job for something that he had complete control over. Without telling you all what it was (We are now divorced and he has paid his price), this was not a layoff and he made a choice that could have been the end of his career forever. I realize that, he has pulled another rug out from under me. INSURANCE – why is this happening to me? I decide after a couple of days that I cannot live and look at him without being furious, sad and disgusted at the same time. The one person who is supposed to be by my side when I am facing losing my breast, maybe even my life has failed me. I ask him to leave. My Mother and Father stay by my side and get me into surgery, that was June 17th, 2008.
The mastectomy – I woke up in recovery with the worst pain in my life. I had 2 babies natural and I have had many surgeries – this was horrible compared to them. I am in the hospital longer, for I am a fainter and I faint in the hospital bathroom. My reconstruction involves taking 3/4 of my Lat. muscle from my back and the fall causes an internal bleed in my back. After a day or so, my blood tests reveal that I need 2 blood transfusions. God is watching over me – my Dr. says I would not have made it thru the night without it. My Mom, bless her heart does not leave me this entire time. She sleeps on a roll away and only leaves to take a shower. I finally get home to deal with pain and a drain coming out of my back – that I have to carry around for 6 weeks.
My mother stays to take care of me and my girls for nearly 2 months. She has to bathe me, feed me, help me in and out of bed, empty my drain twice a day… She cleans my house and gets my kids to school. She listens to me cry everyday, this has to be so hard for her and my daughters… The fall causes my back from my neck to my waist is so bruised, I look like someone beat me with chains. My stitches are awful, my breast and nipple are cut out, the expander is flat – I am something out of a horror movie under my clothes….Why is this happening to me?
My parents, family, my daughters and friends rally around me – family members send money for my house payment and necessities. They buy us food, they pack our house (we have to move – we have no $$), they arrange garage sales, because we need to sell half of our belongings. Why is this happening to me?
I get my drain out and my poor parents, along with my great friends from a previous job get me moved. My parents can finally go home for awhile. They arrive home to find that their home has been burglarized!! My poor parents!! I can’t believe this – they were helping me and they were robbed of their vehicle, family heirlooms and their sense of being safe!! My mom stays home for only 1 week to get her home somewhat back in order to come right back to Reno. My grandmother is not doing well, she goes into the hospital and Ashley (my oldest) and I go relieve my Mom and Aunt at the hospital. My Grandma says, “Dawn I am so sorry for doing this to you.” I say to her I wouldn’t be anywhere else, not knowing what she meant at the time. She never complained of pain, while I was going thru mine…. She had her wits about her and the doctors acted like she was going to get to go home. But she did not. I knew later what she meant when she said that to me……She knew she was going home to the Lord on August 17th (exactly 2 mos after my surgery). My poor Mom, my poor girls, my poor Dad and Brother, poor me…..why is this happening?
I was a stay at home Mom had only worked part time or not at all for 4 years. I was now living in a 2 bd apt, sharing a bedroom with my 7 year old, so my teenager can have some privacy….but I can’t work yet, my shoulder is frozen and I need physical therapy. My family can only provide so much for me and my girls. I have to go to the Cancer Foundations and to welfare for Food Stamps. I never thought I would be doing this, I had a good life before all this. A great home for my girls, food in the pantry, etc…. Just when I am thinking, I’m being punished for something to live with all this… God still provides for me in other ways… The Susan G. Komen Foundation put me in touch with local foundations that they fund. After crying, filling out apps and explaining my situation – they are so generous. The pay my insurance thru Cobra $300/mth, my rent, my car payment, my utilities and some of my medical… If I didn’t get that help, I would have been homeless in Reno or had to move my children from the only constant in their lives at the moment – to Las Vegas so we could live with my Folks.
I am now 1.5 years out and cancer free, I have a great job that I have had since Oct 1st of 2008. But still I am having a difficult time living with this. I go to the Oncologist every 3 mos, surrounded by people that are not anywhere near my age and most look close to death. I feel so alone sometimes – but have all these wonderful people around me that praise my courage and strength. But I know that I will be OK. Someday, I will look at my 3rd time reconstructed (not pretty) breast with happiness and not disgust and sadness.
I would not wish my situation on my worst enemy. My girls and family have endured the worst year of our lives, I cannot fully explain all of the pain and sadness that we have experienced. But I urge you to love the people in your lives and help those in your community that you can. Foundations like Susan G Komen are not just there to help find a cure, but help women and men that are suffering financially from their disease and individual situations. If you can help any foundation out there with your time or a just a few dollars, please do so. For I hope you don’t, but you may also need their assistance.
I am not looking for sympathy, but ask you all to live your lives to the fullest and do your part to make this world a better place. Either your mother, daughter, sister, grandmother, or friend will be diagnosed with Breast Cancer – it is a life changing disease and I believe it has made me a better person in alot of ways, but I still have more work to do on myself!! I am finally going to a support group tomorrow night. After doing what I needed to survive, I now am feeling more pain emotionally. I have ongoing surgeries, treatments and tests that are in my life probably forever – I am always living in fear that I will be sick again. But God left me here to do something bigger and I hope that I can help young women like myself get thru their battle. May be I can start a Support group for women under 50 in my community – for I am needed…. I now try to pay it forward as often as I can….
I thank you all so much for being here for me and my family – I am here for you when and if you need me!!