To me, my friend Vicki is one of those people. We met at the Rochester Athletic Club when we were both pregnant with our first kids and soon discovered some pretty incredible coincidences, including: we each had two babies with the same due dates, we both have two sisters, we were married the exact same year , day and time, we had the same childhood nicknames (Fifi, Feef for short) and we were alike – still.
One time while on the run, Vicki had to come out to use a bathroom and knock on a stranger’s door. He welcomed her and then wished her the best. Only then did he say to himself, “Wait. That wasn’t Viv. ” He thought she was me.
When our children were babies, Vicki moved with her husband and two children. Months passed without us talking about it. But that didn’t matter. We both knew we would always be there for each other. Years passed and Vicki received her first breast cancer diagnosis.
“It started with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS),” says Vicki. ‘I had radiation. But it was too big for a lumpectomy, so I had a bilateral mastectomy. And then a reconstruction. ‘
The American Cancer Society website says one in five new breast cancer cases will be DCIS, and most of those cases will be cured. A diagnosis of DCIS means that cancer cells are in the lining of the breast ducts but have not spread. Treatment may include lumpectomy, mastectomy, radiation and hormone therapy.
Vicki, who always has a smile on her face and a positive outlook, assured me she was fine. She had this. She sailed through surgeries and treatments without showing any hint of fear or anxiety. I didn’t see her until months later. She was cancer free.
But in 2020, Vicki found a lump. The National Cancer Institute reports that while a mastectomy significantly reduces the risk of breast cancer, the risk is not zero. Some breast tissue remains and cancer could possibly form. A biopsy showed that Vicki had invasive breast cancer this time. She had to deal with surgery, chemotherapy and radiation.
“It was a shock because I never thought I would get cancer again,” says Vicki. ‘But then I thought, okay. Here we go again. Let’s do this. Let me drop the ball and I’ll run with it. ‘
And run with it, she did. With a smile, Vicki embraced the positive.
I, on the other hand, burst into tears after hearing the news. Fear and dread of the unknown grabbed me. When she asked if I could come and stay for a few days to drive her to chemo, I jumped in the car.
When I arrived, Vicki greeted me with a beaming smile, a burst of happy energy, and an array of delicious food. Her presence in that moment began to melt the icy cloak of worry that I had unwittingly wrapped around me. Perhaps realistic optimism made you feel better.
During my stay, Vicki inspired me to see the joy of life, to embrace the existing love and to be grateful for everything I have. I should have been there to get her through two tough days of chemo. Instead, she gave me those three pearls of wisdom.
“I’ve heard from my doctors that that attitude is everything,” says Vicki. “Being positive about how well the breast cancer treatment has turned out keeps me going. When I wake up and meditate or go out for a walk in the beauty of nature, I feel happy. And being around friends and family I am incredibly grateful. “
Vicki recently completed her treatment and admits it hasn’t always been easy. She says there were times when chemo squashed her and negativity threatened to derail her. But Vicki is victorious. Looking back, I now realize that her attitude back then wasn’t just a reaction to the cancer. It’s who she is and who she has always been. A ray of light that shines for others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that breast cancer is the second most common cancer in women in the US. And that nearly a quarter of a million cases are diagnosed every year. Breast cancer is curable if caught early, and researchers continue to look for new and better ways to combat many forms of this disease.