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Expressway: After cancer, return to the land of the living

"Cancer changed me," writes reader E. Dama-Travis of Holtsville. "I am now a survivor, fighter, champion! It changed my attitude. Little things out of place don't bother me anymore. I am changed for the better."

Cancer changes everything.

It changes how you see yourself and takes away your sense of immortality. It changes your days. You go from carpools and playdates to doctor's appointments and blood draws. Your look changes, pale skin, no hair, bloated face.

It changes friendships. You now need the help. Some friends leave, you are a reflection of them. If it can happen to you, it can happen to anyone, even them. Your true friends are there for you and the friendship grows stronger and more real.

As a survivor of breast cancer, I speak from experience. October is Cancer Awareness Month, a time when nonprofit organizations on Long Island and elsewhere raise money and awareness. This is my contribution.

In May 1999, I changed. I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A doctor told my husband and me, "It's very, very bad. Get your affairs in order."

I wasn't prepared for the way it would change me and the people closest to me. Family dynamics changed. My 19-year-old son decided it was his job to take care of his younger sister. He quit college, got a full-time job and attempted to become a surrogate dad as my husband tried to take over the care and feeding of the family, work full time, and be my chauffeur and shoulder to cry on.

My 12-year-old daughter decided it was my fault I had cancer and became defiant. Soon I was on a first-name basis with school guidance counselors and child psychologists.

My husband changed; he was angry all the time. Not at me, but at the hand fate dealt us. But the day he saw me "getting my affairs in order," he exploded.

"Dying is not an option!" he yelled at me.

He did not want me to give up. It was a wakeup call.

First I changed my doctor. He said, "I can give you years." That gave me hope. Then I changed my attitude. I became a fighter -- 10 rounds of chemotherapy at Brookhaven Memorial Hospital, shots of anti-infection medication every day to help my blood counts after chemo, all so I could have more chemo. Then I had 60 radiation treatments at Stony Brook University Hospital.

A miracle happened, my prognosis changed. Thirteen years later I am still here.

But my life changed . . . forever. Cancer does that. I was not me anymore. In the eyes of others I am a "cancer survivor." Neighbors who never gave me the time of day stop me in the market. Meaning well but sounding somewhat insensitive, they ask, "So, did they get it all?"

I am still a wife, mother, caretaker, but with less energy. I delegate chores: "The vacuum cleaner is in the broom closet, and yes, I do expect you to use it."

Good days outnumber the bad days. As I open my eyes each morning, my first thought is no longer, "Oh, no, I had cancer." Hours go by and the word doesn't even cross my mind.


Cancer changed me. I am now a survivor, fighter, champion! It changed my attitude. Little things out of place don't bother me anymore. I am changed for the better.

Cancer survivors like me have returned to the land of the living.