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Women's Health Blog

It's a Woman Thing: Gratitude for Breast Cancer

Given that Thanksgiving falls in this month, and given that it is a gentle reminder to count your blessings, although we really should do it every day, it was fitting that my topic should be about gratitude!  I have had a recent life experience that has compelled me to look at my personal gratitude through a different lens. Three weeks ago, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.  

I have DCIS (Ductal Carcinoma In Situ) grade 2-3. These last three weeks have been a whirlwind, and to be honest, the first week I was in total warrior mode. I was driven to do whatever I was instructed to do. No time to be afraid nor feel sorry for myself. I had two surgeries within seven days, which meant two recovery phases, and being forced to stop what I was doing to endure this has caused me to pause and really evaluate my life through a lens of pure gratitude. 

First, I am grateful for technology, specifically 3D mammography. Along with that, I am thankful to Beebe Healthcare who made the commitment several years ago to make 3D mammography its standard for screening mammography. I am grateful to myself that I have been committed to getting annual mammograms since the age of 40. I am grateful to Kristy, the mammo tech who performed the screening.  I am grateful to Dr. Ellen Bahtiarian who read the image, reassured me, and advised me.  I am grateful to Dr. Lisa Attebery (I could blog about her singularly) — I bumped into her in the hallway that morning, and she gave me her cell phone number and told me to text her after the additional images were performed. My gratitude to her goes even further in that she was so responsive in getting back to me, her office staff was equally responsive in setting up my biopsy. The mammo team who assisted with the biopsy are some of Beebe’s finest!  I am grateful to them.

My gratitude toward Dr. Attebery is limitless in that she called me with the biopsy results and actually made me feel safe, reassured, and her compassion and commitment that she extended to me made me feel like I was her only patient. Warrior mode kicked in and the next day, upon her instruction, I was at Beebe Outpatient Surgery Center where I was greeted by the friendliest of staff. Again, I felt reassured, safe, and well taken care of. My anesthesia team was great, providing more comfort and safety. My recovery team was outstanding and compassionate. And my gratitude for my entire Beebe family is immense. There are no words to be able to thank all of the individuals in all of the many roles who touch patients through one episode of care.

I am grateful to my “life hostage” Terry who provided the most compassionate TLC. He held my hand, stayed by my side, told me I was beautiful with no makeup, remotely kept up with his work while he was by my side, and indulged any wish or need that I had. Terry took me to every appointment and listened intently to every discussion I had with Dr. Attebery so that he could also help to facilitate my acceptance and understanding. My gratitude for having someone in my life like him, who loves me unconditionally is very healing and I am grateful every day. I feel so lucky!

I have a wise aunt, who I have mentioned before, who taught me years ago that when the universe wants your attention, it will hit you between the eyes with a 2x4!  I accept that breast cancer is my 2x4!  Surprisingly, I have come out of this over the last 3+ weeks feeling very clear, strong, healthy, and incredibly optimistic.  I recognize that my diagnosis could have been much worse. I am grateful that DCIS is my diagnosis; I am grateful to Sue Kelly, my OB-GYN who called me and relayed the information to me in a way that I could relate to, by comparing it to a high-grade pap smear!  Again, I am grateful that it is not invasive. I am grateful that my sentinel lymph node was negative, which means I do not need chemotherapy.  I know that I am going to die someday, but I will probably will not die from this breast cancer. At this stage, I am meeting with the medical and radiation oncologists.  I will likely require a course of radiation. I am grateful that I have the Tunnell Cancer Center in my backyard. With all of their experience and compassion, I know I am in good hands.

This 2x4 has prompted me to really take a closer look at many things in my life.  I was healthy before the diagnosis and I remain healthy despite the diagnosis. I am committed more than ever to taking good care of myself, eating a predominantly plant-based diet, eliminating impurities in my diet, eating mostly organic fruits and vegetables, and overall putting foods into my body that are nourishing.  I have always been a good eater; I focus on whole foods, but now I am taking it to the next level. I do not want to put anything into my body that is “toxic.”

Taking a step back, I recognize that I handle stress really well. Having this experience and having 2 weeks of unexpected leave from my job allowed me to pause. I can see those things in my life that cause me stress that I just accept. By taking a different approach, I now want to be able to be more of an observer of my life and my stress and be open to opportunities to choose less stress and choose more joy and gratitude.

It doesn’t take a cancer diagnosis to make significant changes in your life. Your 2x4 could be something else!  However the 2x4 presents itself, it takes a willingness and an awareness to embrace it and make the change. I believe that gratitude is one way to frame it and make it work for you. It’s working for me – I am grateful for so much. I thank the universe for waking me up to this new chapter.

Bridget Buckaloo

Bridget Buckaloo

Bridget Buckaloo, MSN, is Executive Director of Women's Health Services at Beebe Healthcare.