After the Diagnosis: Learning to Live a More Fulfilled Way of Life
By JackieConlon on October 11, 2013
In 2012, I noticed an unusual lump during a breast self-exam. Although I knew something was different, I convinced myself it was nothing and pushed away any lingering fears. Eventually, the nagging feeling that followed me as I went about my daily routine won and I called my OB/GYN who referred me for a mammogram. Following the mammogram and ultrasound, I immediately made an appointment with a breast surgeon. I kept thinking being 51 with no family history of breast cancer and no other symptoms – it couldn’t be breast cancer.
When I saw my doctor he thought that the chances were in my not in my favor and it was most likely a malignant tumor. To be 100 percent sure I underwent a biopsy during the same visit. The biopsy process was a whirlwind and having practiced law for almost 20 years and having worked on medical malpractice cases, including pathology cases, I was aware what can (and does) go wrong in medical settings.
My fears were reassured when my doctor explained that he uses the know error system - a test that leverages DNA matching to confirm that surgical biopsy samples being evaluated belongs to the patient being diagnosed. He explained that comparing my DNA to the DNA in the biopsy sample ensured that the result was my own and there hadn’t been a mislabeling or contamination of my specimen. I was shocked to learn that I had Stage 2A breast cancer, but knowing that the DNA matched eased my worry that it might be someone else’s result.
It wasn’t the cancer that made this ordeal difficult, it was the cure. After my diagnosis, I had a lumpectomy and breast reconstruction. I also had 20 weeks of chemotherapy and 7 weeks of radiation. I lost my hair-all my hair. You never know how important your nose hair is until it’s gone.
As part of my treatment, I attended group therapy at the Norma Pfreim Cancer Center in Fairfield. It was one of the best things my husband encouraged me to do. Led by a compassionate therapist, our group was filled with women of different ages, backgrounds and experiences. This group of amazing women helped me remember who I was before my diagnosis and assured me that I could become an even better version as cancer became something I looked at in the rear view mirror.
It has been over one year since my diagnosis, and I am proud to say that I am now cancer free. To lower my risk of reoccurrence, I will continue take medication for the next 5 years, which also serves as a daily reminder that I am a breast cancer survivor. I have also started a ketogenic diet under the supervision of my OB/GYN and have returned to the gym. Given this second chance, I am determined to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible.
I hope others learn that it is always best to take that extra step when it comes to your health. Whether it’s making an appointment with your doctor or requesting a test that prevents medical errors, you’re worth it – it could even save your life. With a loving husband, 15-year-old stepson and as a co-founder of my own law practice, I have a lot to look forward to and I am now focused on the rest of my life.
The silver linings from this experience include: a better more open relationship with my husband; a deeper understanding of the need for balance in my life and the realization that many people care deeply for me and my family. While I wouldn’t wish this experience on anyone, it has opened my eyes to a more fulfilled way of life.