“You Have Cancer”…a Year and a Half of Reflection…

Introduction by Dawn.  Written by Guest Blogger, Amy Staples.

I am honored today to share with you my dear friend, Amy.  While at my former employment, Amy was my best friend there.  Not only that, she was a great mentor and role model…as I strived to be the attorney she already is…by far one of the best I know.  She was a constant ear of support and wonderful lunch and drinks buddy.  And I was absolutely thrilled when I found out we would be sharing our pregnancies together…with her due date just a few weeks after mine.  We had fun talking, comparing…just understanding what each of us was going through.

I can honestly say I will never forget the day Amy asked me about the weird symptom she was experiencing…we were standing in her administrative assistant’s office.  I remember thinking it was probably no big deal.  Amy felt like there was something wrong…and then she told me it could be a sign of cancer. Cancer. Oh my God.  I said my prayers and tried to support Amy.  I remember celebrating all the milestones of her pregnancy and being thrilled with the births of our two little guys…still knowing there was this monkey in the room.  And I’ll never forget the sorrow I felt for her that her maternity leave really wasn’t the normal 9 weeks of new baby craziness…it was immediately overshadowed with doctor’s appointment and questions about if she had cancer…and 10 months of fighting her biggest battle.

When she told me she had cancer…well, I cried. I mean…how else can you handle it when one of your best friends is diagnosed with cancer. I was so fearful for her. So concerned with and for her husband, Robbie, and son, Briley.  I hated knowing she was so young…I could easily be her…and she me…how did she get the short end of the stick? I hated that this dear friend of mine would be suffering. I felt at an absolute and complete loss.

But, wow, saying Amy is amazing is a gross understatement. She fought this battle with every ounce of her…as brave as anyone I’ve ever seen. I never heard her once complain.  I would talk to her a day after her grueling chemo and she would be so very sick…but she never complained.  She never once complained when she lost all her hair.  I’ve never heard her say “why me.”  I’ve never heard anything but shear determination, hope and a sense of invincibility.  It was amazing and utterly humbling to watch.  I know if anyone can beat this horrible disease…it is Amy.

I am a better person because of Amy and that is why I am so honored and excited to present her to you. So, without further ado…

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On March 8, 2010, when my precious baby boy was less than eight weeks old, I heard three words that would change my life forevermore.  You have cancer.  Cancer…  Just a short six-letter word that packs so much power, so much fear, and so much uncertainty; yet, a word from which I have learned a great deal.

When Dawn asked me to write this guest blog, I spent several nights contemplating what part of my cancer story I should tell – the chapter of my diagnosis, the chapter of the incredible love and support I was given during my numerous surgeries and chemo treatments, the chapter of the hope that today fills my heart and mind. Because the chapters are so intertwined, however, I couldn’t choose just one.  So, I decided I’d simply tell you a few things I’ve learned (or was reminded of) in the past eighteen months.  My hope is that you might learn (or be reminded of) a thing or two as well.

  • Women should always trust their gut instincts.  When we first found out we were pregnant, my OBGYN, Dr. Kimberly Alumbaugh, warned me not to search the Internet about each and every symptom I had or else, I’d drive myself crazy with worry.  Because I trusted her profusely, I heeded Dr. Alumbaugh’s warning – except in this instance.  One morning while putting on my mascara, I noticed a rusty-like substance on my arm.  Eventually, I discovered that blood was coming from my left breast.  After talking with Dawn (who was pregnant with Carson at the time) and establishing that this wasn’t a normal symptom of pregnancy, and simply feeling as if this was something serious, I broke the rules and searched the Internet.  Instantly I found sites noting that this could be a symptom of cancer.  When I went to my doctor’s office and she immediately sent me upstairs to meet with a surgeon, I knew I had cancer – even before I could have a biopsy to confirm it five months later.  Trusting my instincts, I requested a second opinion when the first surgeon chalked up my symptoms as simply hormonal.
  • Second opinions are imperative.  After meeting with me for about 5 minutes in his office, the first surgeon I went to sent me for an ultrasound of my breast. When the test revealed nothing abnormal, the surgeon told me the symptoms I was experiencing were hormonal. He recommended I complete my pregnancy, breast feed and come back to see him in a year when we would do a mammogram.  Feeling as if I had been brushed off and knowing something was wrong, I went back to my doctor.  She shared my concerns and referred me to a second surgeon, Dr. Scott Jones.  Dr. Jones did not mince words, noting there was a real chance that I had breast cancer and suggesting we do a surgical biopsy as quickly as physically possible after my son’s birth.  Dr. Jones helped save my life.  The biopsy and surgery that followed revealed that I had Stage 2 cancer.  Thank God I trusted my instinct and got that second opinion!
  • I am so loved and so lucky.  I have always been blessed with amazing friends and a supportive family.  I didn’t realize just how truly amazing and supportive my friends and family were, however, until my time of crisis.  From the moment of my diagnosis, my loved ones put their lives on hold for Robbie, Briley and I.  Dawn immediately organized an online meal plan and for weeks, co-workers, church members, and high school, college and law school friends, some of who I hadn’t seen in years, provided meals for us.  I quickly had to change to a bigger box to hold the numerous cards I received.  My best friend Cheri chauffeured me to surgeon appointments, often providing me with a needed laugh.  My mom wore many hats:  my caretaker, my chemo buddy, my babysitter, my rock.  My dad was at every surgery.  My mother-in-law took a week of vacation leave to stay at our home.  Robbie reminded me why I fell in love with him in the first place, holding strong despite being worried to the core.  I truly don’t know how I would have made it through the past year and a half without any of them.  I am a lucky girl!
  • Your motivation can come from the smallest places (or smallest people)!  From the moment of my diagnosis, I was determined I was going to beat my disease.  I had great reason for my determination:  Briley Heath, my little miracle. Had I not been pregnant, my symptoms may not have presented themselves for several years.  Briley saved my life initially and then gave me the motivation I needed to make it through day to day without complaint and feeling sorry for myself.  (Ok, so there were some days I did feel a little sorry for myself and in which I’m sure I complained a little but I was entitled, right?)  Holding him and peering into his beautiful, loving face made all my fears go away and soothed my soul. He let me forget about everything I was going through physically.  I learned very quickly to treasure every moment I have with him and for that lesson, I am eternally grateful.
  • Life is precious.  Before my cancer, I had been blessed with good health.  I never imagined something like this happening to me so I took a lot of things for granted.  I worked a lot more than I should.  I didn’t spend as much time with my family as I should.  I didn’t appreciate the small things in life.  I try now to do just that.  I’ve recently seen a commercial of a cancer survivor walking in the rain, soaking up the water falling over her, with a smile.  I feel like I could be the person in that commercial.  I’m just so happy to be alive and so glad I’ve been given a second chance to embrace the important things in my life! Too often, we let the hectic pace of our lives overshadow the things and people in our lives who mean the most to us.  My cancer has reminded me what is truly important and for that, I am thankful.

Had I had a choice, I for sure wouldn’t have chosen the path my life has taken the past year and a half, but I truly am thankful for everything I’ve learned from it.  I am a stronger and more determined person because of it.  I love my family and friends even deeper because of it. I appreciate life more because of it.  And because of all of that, I am blessed.

naomi - October 21, 2011 - 12:39 pm

What an amazing story i have just read, i was honored to be able to read it and know people all over the world, no matter what you have Faith is the best medicine and not giving up. We have no right to give up no matter the battle ,God is with us.God Bless you Amy, a f b friend naomi

Lakeisha Heath - October 21, 2011 - 10:06 am

Amy,
Even though I already knew all of this from talking to you and being a fairly close bystander, I enjoyed reading this. It is eye opening to hear things from your perspective. It is because of you and your ordeal with cancer that I am more cautious about my health and what Drs tell me. No one knows your body better than yourself and when someone with your experience says “trust your instincts”, I think we should all listen!! Love ya bunches!

Denesa Sullivan - October 20, 2011 - 10:46 pm

Amy,
You are a very special person in our family and we all love you. You are an amazing role model for all women. Thanks for telling your story and just maybe it will help save someone else’s life from being something traggic. God bless you and your family. Love ya

Linda - October 20, 2011 - 8:14 pm

Thanks, Amy, for reminding us what is important. Ourselves, our health, and our family–work is a means to an end. We are blessed to do work we feel valuable and personally fulfilling, but no brief will care for us in sickness or old age and no client will ever give us the satisfaction our children do. I am so proud of you and so happy for you and I will continue to remember you in my prayers. AOT, Linda

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