40 and Fabulous
By: Julie Wade
On October 11, 2013, I turned 40 years old, in the best shape of my life and filled with optimism and vigor for the upcoming decade. I celebrated with family and friends and boldly proclaimed that I was forty and fabulous, with the best yet to come. A successful lawyer and mother of three, I had the world in my hands.
By pure luck, my annual exam with my OB/GYN was scheduled for 6 days after my birthday. Everything appeared normal, and at the end of my appointment, my doctor referred me for my first routine annual mammogram. We laughed that this was one of the “perks” of turning 40. Fortunately, my OB/GYN’s office offers mammograms onsite, so I was able to walk across the hall to get the mammogram. If I had to schedule a separate appointment, who knows when or if I would have gotten around to it. Two weeks after I turned 40, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
But for my mammogram, I never would have known I had breast cancer. I was in excellent health. The cancer was hidden in my milk ducts and lymph node and could not have been detected by a self examination. By the time my cancer would have become detectable through symptoms or self examination, it likely would have been too late to treat successfully. At the very least, my fight would have been much more difficult and my fate much less certain. Thank goodness for that annual exam and mammogram, scheduled by chance so close to my 40th birthday.
But first, I had a marathon to run. For months I had been training for Savannah’s Rock and Roll Marathon, a declaration of my forty and fabulous life. I had only done one other marathon, in my twenties and before I became a mom or had a career. Life was much different now! But I was running fast and had a long shot goal of qualifying for the Boston marathon. In between many meetings with doctors and difficult decisions to make, I still managed to get in my training runs. Those long runs provided much need solace and contemplation with the fear and anxiety of my recent diagnosis. Two weeks after my diagnosis, I qualified for Boston, with breast cancer and five minutes to spare. I must have uttered “breast cancer can kiss my a#$” a thousand times while I was running. I think it literally pushed me to my maximum potential and across that finish line.
Since then, I’ve had a unilateral mastectomy, in which the cancer was also found in my lymph node. That led to chemotherapy and radiation. What I thought would be a couple of surgeries and perky new boobs in time for summer has turned into a nearly two year journey. Diagnosed in October 2013, I will not have my final reconstructive surgery until July 2015. Instead of perky new boobs, I have a shiny nearly bald head. But I am still running. And the kids have come to like my “new look.” I’ve taken a “pause” from my hectic life and am finally taking care of myself. I am responding to the chemotherapy very well with very few side effects. I really cannot complain.
Six months from now, I will turn 41, with a different understanding of 40 and fabulous. I will be done with chemotherapy and radiation, and my hair will be growing. I will finally be able to trade doctors’ appointments for a hair appointment, and I’ll definitely be scheduling my annual mammogram for my one “good boob” that I have left. I’ll keep running…all the way to the Boston Marathon in April 2015. Breast cancer, you can take my boobs and you can take my hair, but you cannot take my life.