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Six Lessons I Learned Overcoming Breast Cancer

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(4 min readBy Mary Kyle

On February 25, 2013, I embarked on the most incredible journey of my life, overcoming breast cancer.

Prior to this, my life was (and still is!) pretty awesome. Married to the love of my life, I lived in a beautiful, old Greek revival home, reminiscent of Tara from Gone with the Wind. I danced ballet Folklorico with a dance troupe, belonged to an art guild preparing for an exhibit. I played in a band and ran a music school providing free lessons to under-served children, all while juggling a career here at IBM. My daughter and I rode bicycles to and from her school every day. It was a lovely, perfect, wonderfully normal life. I loved it!

Then, on Thanksgiving of 2012, my husband and I found “it”. We found the lump that turned out to be the unthinkable – cancer. And just like that, the world as I knew it was irrevocably changed.

My Breast Cancer Diagnosis

The first thing I learned was that not all breast cancer is created equal. Being an overachiever, I didn’t just get cancer, I got C-A-N-C-E-R. Mine was a rare form of hereditary breast cancer that accounts for fewer than five percent of all breast cancer patients. Statistically, only three percent of women with this form survive to the two-year mark. I was faced with my own mortality in a very short amount of time.

I had so many questions… Who would raise my daughter? How could my body be so sick when I felt so fine, so healthy? How was I sick when I had so much to do? I was never afraid of dying, but, boy, I was MAD.

Cancer, any cancer, is a kick-in-the-gut, life-altering event. Like any other life-altering event, it changes you and those who love you. But it’s still life, and life is what you choose to make of it. While cancer is never a journey I would have chosen, I am also not sorry that it is part of my journey. The 14 months after diagnosis were filled with treatments, and surgeries, and chemo and then more of the same. I met amazing people with their own amazing journey. I saw the love of family, friends and even strangers manifested in love to me and my family in ways that I could never have comprehended except for this process. Knowing how loved and cherished you are on this side of the veil is a rare gift.

I am one of the lucky ones. I am still here, a mother, daughter, sister, aunt, cousin, wife, and best friend. More than a SURVIVOR, I am a THRIVER!

Lessons Learned

I am often asked to share something about my journey with breast cancer. I would need a book to share everything, but here are the items I think are the most important for anyone facing this to know.

Early detection saves lives.

I cannot stress this enough. I found my cancer six months before my annual mammogram was due. If I had waited, I would not be here today. My niece got tested because of my BRCA status, learned she was BRCA-positive and started doing self-checks. On the morning of her 26th birthday, she found her breast cancer. She is undergoing chemo now, but early detection has given her a fighting chance.

Know your genetic history.

The fact that your parents did not have cancer does not mean you are immune. I had one of the hereditary cancers from a BRCA gene mutation. If I had known I was at risk, I would have made different health choices.

There is a beauty to everything in life.

If you open your eyes and your heart to it, you will find much beauty, joy, and love – even in the midst of the horror and suffering that is cancer. Your mind and soul need that joy to stay healthy during this journey. If you close your heart to the joy, you’ll only see the suffering and pain and your heart and soul will be sick too. That is not a place you want to go.

Attitude is everything.

You cannot control the fact that this terrible disease has invaded your body. You can control how you choose to respond. Your attitude is up to you. A positive attitude is everything.

Choose abundant life.

When I was diagnosed, the statistics supported a narrative that my body was, in all likelihood, dying. I made the important decision to choose life. I lived as abundantly as possible, and I strive to live an abundant life now. We are mind, body, and spirit. When you have cancer, only the body is sick. Your mind and spirit are still healthy and whole.

You are not a statistic.

Do not live (or die) defined by what the statistics say.



About the Author: Mary Kyle is a Software Sourcing Professional with IBM based out of Austin, Texas. 

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