Meadville Tribune

October 23, 2013

BREAST CANCER AWARENESS: Local survivor stories — Kim Irwin

By Kim Irwin
Special to The Meadville Tribune

MEADVILLE — Well, I guess I’m going to write about this breast cancer thing. Sounds scary to say I have breast cancer. It seems to be going so quick, I can’t wrap my head around one thing before another thing is happening. It started about a month and a half ago. I noticed a lump in my right breast. I was very worried. I think I knew but I tried to ignore it for about a week and then I called the doctor. I went in on Feb. 20. I actually felt a little relieved coming out. They had told me they thought it might just be a cyst. I had to have a mammogram and an ultrasound. They were both scheduled for the 26th.

When I arrived, I was pretty optimistic. The nurse conducted the test and then went to have the radiologist read the results. Again, I wasn’t worried too much. Then she came back and told me I needed a biopsy. The lump was a solid mass. Wow! The mass needed to be tested. I remember thinking I needed to be somewhere else so I could cry. I held it together and went home to wait. I was told it would be about a week, so imagine my upset when I got a call the very next day, the 27th. The doctor wanted to see me that day. That’s when it hit me — I could leave this world. Leave my husband, lose my baby girls and lose my precious grandson. I broke down. My husband, Ron, came home and we went in together. They told me they didn’t know if I had cancer yet but the surgeon wanted to have it removed immediately. We set the appointment for March 12th; I went home with a glimmer of hope. Then came the next day, the 28th, and I was told the doctor may call if they had any results. My daughter, Alysia, came to the house and we spent the day together. We went to pick up my grandson from school. Pulling into the school, my phone rang. It was the doctor. Then she said it  — “I’m sorry, you have cancer.” Down we went again, sitting in Alysia’s car, sobbing, I tried with everything I had to stop but I couldn’t, it hurt so bad. I was scared. Now we wait again; my appointment is tomorrow and I don’t know what stage it is yet. I don’t know if they will take the lump or my breast but whatever the results know this — cancer will lose. It may have my breast or even both of them but it cannot have my life! I will live!

Those words were the first entry in my Journey Journal. They were written on March 4, 2013. As I sit here now and read my words, I almost laugh at what I wrote (... whatever the results know this — cancer will lose. It may have my breast or even both of them but it cannot have my life! I will live!) You ever hear the phrase fake it until you make it? Well that was me; I figured if I pretended to be strong and said the words enough, I would eventually believe them. Truth be told though, I was scared, scared I would die. Scared my family would have to watch me slip away as I had done with my father as I held his hand and watched him take his last breath and succumb to cancer. My fears became stronger when I heard my diagnosis. Several masses filled my right breast. It was a fast-growing and hard to fight cancer. The doctor’s exact words were “If you do not have chemo, you will die.” I did not have them tell me my stage. I decided I didn’t need to know. We would always joke I had exit stage left. I bet by now you’re wondering, where is her good story? Well here it is. I went home and regrouped. I asked God, as I had years ago when I was struggling, give me a sign. I asked for a feather, bring me a feather to guide me. I told no one and I waited. The next day my daughter, Monica, and grandson, Aiden, came over. Guess what they had. A dream catcher with feathers! I was floored. Whether you believe in God or the theory of attraction, it was my sign to get up, stop feeling sorry for myself and fight, fight like I had promised to do when all of this started, and that is exactly what I did. The doctor told me I would have to have chemotherapy and a mastectomy on my right breast; I said “I’ll take two, thanks.” I had a port put in for the chemo, which my grandson, Aiden, says is like Iron Man because Iron Man has a port for his medicine too. I started my journey to live. There were some days that were harder than others but there was never a day I didn’t find inspiration, whether it be from my wonderful doctors and nurses, who always had kind words and smiles, to my family and friends, who were always at the ready to be strong and encouraging on the days I couldn’t.

Today, I am cancer free. My re-birthday is July 18th, the day they removed the last of my cancer from my body. I truly believe as my daughter, Alysia, said, “Cancer is a word, not a sentence.” My advice for anyone who gets this diagnosis is to live and remember, you have cancer, never ever let it have you.