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Column

Walking the road not chosen

Editor's note: After failing a mammogram test earlier this spring, Barb Kromphardt entered the world of breast cancer treatment. Following a surgical biopsy, she was diagnosed with DCIS, an early-stage cancer, in her right breast. She is sharing her story with our readers. This is the final segment in her ongoing story.

The days of radiation were long and strange.

I thought I would be so happy. My cancer was gone, and the treatments were pretty brief and relatively painless.

But I found my attitude was much better when I was actively fighting the cancer cells. Most of the time my mood was upbeat, and I felt like I was living on the edge.

But during radiation, the reality of living with this began to sink in. The first week or so of treatment, I was not myself. No smiles, no small talk with the radiation technicians. I even wore my glasses instead of my contacts to give me something to hide behind.

But gradually I began to change. Although I didn’t FEEL more cheerful, I ACTED more cheerful. You know, fake it until you make it?

And it helped. I got a new radiation technician who was a saint. She was a cheerful, no-nonsense woman who was happy to lend an arm to help me up off the radiation table.

As the end of the treatment approached, I became very excited. At first I counted how many treatments I had undergone, but now I began counting how many I had left.

I met someone in the waiting room who was a few days ahead of me with her treatment. One day she wasn’t there, and I rejoiced that she was done.

But there was a dose of reality when I saw a new patient brought in for the first time.

Cancer had struck again.

It’s been almost three months since I, too, completed my treatment. I’ve had a follow-up visit with my radiation doctor, who said the skin of my breast is healing right on schedule. No hair on my head was harmed, although it will be a while before I have to shave my right armpit.

I’ve had a follow-up visit with my surgeon, who also said all is looking good.

I have a follow-up mammogram scheduled for the end of this month. This time I won’t have to wait for any results because they read the scans of repeat customers like me right away. I’m mostly optimistic about the results.

I’ve gone back and forth on my future many times. At first I thought the doctors would cure me this time, but that sooner or later, breast cancer would get me. But after reading and talking with my doctors, I know my odds of not getting breast cancer again are pretty good.
But I still think of my mother, who died after several bouts with the disease.

October is Breast Cancer Month, and it’s been a bit of a challenge. I find I don’t like thinking of myself as a breast cancer survivor. My cancer was Stage 0, and I didn’t have invasive breast cancer, so part of me doesn’t feel like I deserve the designation.

And another part of me wants to forget these last six months have ever happened.

But they did happen. I went to a new dentist the other day and had to fill out some routine forms. I was scribbling away until I came to the section regarding personal history. No, I have no history of anemia or bleeding. But then I came to the cancer box.

Tears came to my eyes as I explained what had happened to me to the receptionist.

“We’d better check the box ‘yes,’” she said.

People don’t always know what to say to someone with a cancer diagnosis. One acquaintance told me about a friend who had cancer. She had a mastectomy, followed by reconstructive surgery.

“And her breasts are really perky now,” she told me.

Sometimes well-meaning people seem compelled to tell me about their friends or relatives who died from cancer.

But it’s the people who help you through. Family, friends and sometimes people who are almost strangers, but who are ready to listen and cry with you, who are ready to pray and to curse – they’re the ones who get you through. People who take the time to make a call, fire off a quick text or send an e-mail – they’re the ones who helped me survive.

And it’s because of those people – and early detection – that I am able to walk into the future, whatever it might bring.

Barb Kromphardt, currently of Columbus, Ind., was a reporter for the Bureau County Republican and interim managing editor of the Tonica News and the Putnam County Record. She can be reached at bkromps@yahoo.com.

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