When I first got the call confirming I had breast cancer I was momentarily paralyzed.
The doctor called while I was working, and although one part of me knew what I was about to hear, it was still a shock.
I was 41 years old with young children, and had just made summer vacation plans. Looking back now, it’s crazy how you remember exactly where you were and every detail of the day. It was July 27, 2012; I was at work and for a mere second I thought, “Ah, why am I worried? It’s probably benign.” After all, I’ve had scares with breast cancer since I was 25. I have fibrocystic breasts so I was used to bumps, lumps and biopsies. But still, who wants to hear they have infiltrating ductile carcinoma? And, as a lovely door prize, that it had hit my lymph nodes.
When I got home that night, the breakdown began. I was OK until I actually said the words “I have cancer” to my husband. He looked at me in disbelief for a moment and then said, “OK. We can do this.” Followed by, “What happens now? How far along is it?”
We decided it was best to wait to tell the kids until we had more details from the doctors.
Then the onslaught of doctor appointments began. Setting up surgical dates and researching plastic surgeons and oncologists seemed like a new full-time job.
Not long after the diagnosis, I became a regular with the lovely oncology nurses at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin, part of Meridian Cancer Care. My oncologist, Evan Naylor, M.D., and I quickly bonded, and I allowed myself to put all of my trust in him. Dr. Naylor prescribed chemotherapy every other week for the first two treatment drugs, and then every Wednesday after that. I was approached with the opportunity to receive a trial drug and I opted in. I received the trial treatment every 21 days until December 2013. At least it was painless and a part of my routine. I walked in to the hospital and heard, “Hi Bridget, how are the kids? How is life treating you?” before my ID even got checked.
I must say, my children have been troopers through the entire process. When we told them the news, we sat them down and explained there was a bad piece in me that the doctors had to take out. I used ticks as an example. Our house goes all the way back to the woods so they know what ticks do. We told them this tick was deep into my body so the doctor would have to take it out, and I would have to stay at the hospital in order to be sure the doctors got it all.
After I got home from the hospital, I told them I had cancer and asked, “Is your Mommy tough?” They responded with a “yes,” so I said, “Don’t worry. We are going to kick cancer’s butt.”
They loved that response. I explained the tubes connected to me after surgery were taking the bad liquid out, kind of like how your belly gets bad stuff out in order to keep you well. My 7- and 3-year-old could relate to this.
When October came around, we participated in the Making Strides Breast Cancer walk. Twenty of our friends and family walked with us. I explained to my children that this walk helps moms like me kick cancer’s butt. They were very excited as they ran around pointing out people wearing survivor sashes. My kids would say, “Wow, Mom, they kicked cancer’s butt too!” It was very empowering for them to see that other moms get cancer also, and bravely face it.
Our approach to dealing with cancer was to avoid the doom and gloom. Why take away any part of the small amount of time they have to be children? We kept things as normal as possible. I took them to school as often as I could, even if I was in the passenger seat of the car as my husband drove. I went to cheerleading practices with my daughter, volunteered at their schools, and even flew to Florida for my daughter’s National Cheerleading competition in December. These are moments you cannot go back and repeat so I took extra vitamin C, lived with hand sanitizer, and stayed positive.
I had an unbelievably supportive family, and equally supportive friends and coworkers. I am very blessed and grateful. I kept all of the sympathy cards and took pictures of everything sent to the house. When a bad day came, I would look through everything people sent and remember some people aren’t nearly as fortunate as I am.
When January came around, my little guy wanted a new story for his birthday. I use to always make up stories off the cuff to amuse my kids, and this time I thought it’d be special to make a story about him and his adventures with his mom. The book portrays cancer from my son’s perspective, describing surgical tubes as snakes and wigs as a magic way to change hair color.
He and my daughter loved it, so I decided to write it down and title it “My Momma is Magic.” I sent copies to friends with children in order to get different opinions, and it was a hit. From there I figured I would self-publish it. Whether the book does well or not, I know it is a positive way for my kids to remember our rough year, and how we got through it together.
Join me at the Pink Teddy Bear Clinic, where I’ll be selling and signing “My Momma is Magic.” The Pink Teddy Bear Clinic will be held from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m. Friday, May 16, at the Ocean Medical Center, 425 Jack Martin Blvd., Brick. The family event is free and does not require registration to participate; just bring your stuffed animal and we’ll do the rest.
“My Momma is Magic” is now available on amazon.com, barnesandnoble.com and through email at email@example.com. I hope this book helps other little guys like mine understand how to cope with breast cancer. Twenty-five percent of all profits are donated to Oceans of Love Children’s Cancer Society, and to Southern Ocean Medical Center to help offset the cost of cancer treatments and transportation to treatment.
Bridget Wallin is a breast cancer survivor and author of children’s book “My Momma is Magic.” She is a Barnegat resident.
The Two River Times is once again a sponsor of Paint the Town Pink, a breast cancer awareness initiative sponsored by Meridian Health System. Additional information about Paint the Town Pink is available at www.PainttheTownPink.org.***END