When you’re healthy, it’s easy to not think about it and take wellness for granted. And then, just like that, your whole world can change and thoughts of your health can become all consuming.
That’s what happened to my friend Dona Sturmanis in the summer of 2012. One minute she was showering, thinking about the day that lay ahead, and all the things on her to-do list; the next minute all thoughts turned to worry after discovering a sizeable lump in her breast.
Immediately she went to the doctor for tests, and to her surprise she didn’t just have one simple mammogram like some might expect. Over the next month and a half she went to many appointments at various health care facilities and underwent a series of tests and biopsies in several different space-age machines before finally learning her prognosis.
And then the news she dreaded was delivered: the lump in her breast was malignant and drastic measures would be required in order to save her.
Devastated, she went home, opened a bottle of wine and called her three closest girlfriends, who came over to support and cry with her. And then they, along with some other dear friends, stuck by her side as she courageously fought for her life.
After hearing her medical options and doing some research of her own, Dona chose to have a single mastectomy. She then endured chemotherapy and radiation and became sick, exhausted, and muddle-minded from the treatments and prescription drugs she was given. She also lost her hair, fingernails and toenails. What she didn’t lose, though, was her will to survive, or her ability to laugh.
“I should have removed both,” she joked about the loss of her one double-D-sized breast. “It would have been nice to be flat chested for a change. And what a great fashion statement.”
After decades taking care of her esthetics, and believing that a big part of her identity was in her physical attractiveness, it was eye opening after she’d seemingly lost it.
“I remember looking at myself in the mirror one day,” she said. “And thinking, you know, this isn’t so bad.”
Realizing that a woman’s sexuality is so much more than breasts and beauty, she was able to embrace what she has to offer on a deeper level, and found what she possesses within is far more beautiful than her outward appearance could ever be.
Dona’s cancer is now in remission. Her hair has grown back, and so have her nails – stronger and better than ever. What hasn’t grown back is the savings she burned through during all that time when she was too ill to work.
Being a self-employed freelance writer for the last 30 years, and without a life partner to help out, or an insurance policy to kick in for lost income, she’s been working hard to catch up financially.
“I’d like to one day get reconstruction,” she said. “But the most important thing to me right now is just making enough to pay my bills and not lose my home.”
Dona considers herself one of the many self-employed people who fall between the cracks. “I thought I was immortal and I wasn’t,” she said when explaining why she never paid the high insurance premiums that could have helped her when she needed it. “This cancer threw me for a loop.”
With one in eight women developing breast cancer, her advice is to perform regular self exams, get mammograms, and never take health for granted – because this can happen to anyone, regardless of genetics or lifestyle. For more information on breast cancer awareness, visit: www.cbcf.org
Dona Sturmanis, BFA, MFA, Writing Editing Instruction Consultation, firstname.lastname@example.org
Lori Welbourne is a syndicated columnist. She can be contacted at www.LoriWelbourne.com