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Maria's Story

ProfileMy Breast Cancer Story

by Maria Ashmore

In late May 2002, I had my routine yearly mammogram. Although I had and still have fibrocystic breast disease, I was not worried any more than usual. However, when the radiologist said he saw some clusters of calcifications that were suspicious, I panicked. He felt safe in saying that we could wait six months since I had a history of this and he would redo the mammogram at that time. I said, "No, let's check it now". Sometimes intuition and "taking charge of your own body" plays a huge part in your medical diagnosis.

I had a biopsy done that day and returned in early June for my results. As my husband, John, and I were waiting for the doctor to walk in, I had a "gut" feeling that this was not going to be good news. The radiologist walked in and immediately said, "You have breast cancer". I was in shock and numb! We had just lost my mother-in-law eight months before to breast cancer and I immediately thought this was a death sentence.

Then he says, "But if you need to have cancer, this is the good kind to have". Whoever heard of a good cancer? Certainly not me! The big "BC" had just struck me unexpectedly. The tears began to flow. Will I not be here to see my sons marry? Will I not see my grandchildren grow up? What have I left as a legacy for my family? Negative thoughts and questions kept popping up in my head. I could not think much less react.

I had a hard time accepting this diagnosis. Since there was no history of breast cancer in my family, I could not understand how it could happen to me. This was something that always happens to other people. Wrong! I was humbled and brought to my knees and realized that I am not the one in control of my life. God is!

It took me several days to "digest" the fact of having breast cancer. I could not think clearly nor function in my normal manner. I became depressed and inundated with so many decisions, from several doctor's appointments to surgical procedures and treatments. It all happened so quickly that I had no time to really "glue" myself together.

I immediately told the doctor just to remove my entire breast if it would be the best option. I wanted to live! Dr. Helen Krontiras, my breast surgeon, recommended a lumpectomy with radiation treatments as the best and most promising breast conserving treatment.

I went to Birmingham in July and had outpatient surgery with a sentinel node biopsy, a procedure to determine if or to what extent the lymph nodes are involved. I anxiously and fearfully awaited the results for a week. When Dr. Krontiras herself phoned me, I knew something was not right. They did not "get it all"; the margins were not clean. I went back for a second lumpectomy a week later to remove more tissue and cells from the area. This time the results indicated clear margins.

After several weeks to heal from the surgeries, in August I began my radiation treatments, five days a week for almost eight weeks. I thought that there was nothing to this; it actually took longer to undress and dress than it did to undergo the radiation treatment itself. But, WHAM! After about five weeks of the radiation accumulating in my body, I became very drained and extremely tired. Although I did continue to work as much as possible, the frustration of not being able to function normally was overwhelming.

Our first grandson was due in September and that kept me focused on life and living each day to the fullest. I began reading personal stories of breast cancer survivors – some made me laugh, others made me cry, but they were all inspiring and healing. I began to heal as I faced the fact that this was a battle I was going to win.

God's timing was not mine, but I believe now that he put this "speed bump" in my road to first of all make me realize who is in charge and secondly so that I can now help others going through this disease. "BC" no longer means "Breast Cancer" to me but "Been Cured"!

From this experience grew Women of Hope (WOH) - (Women Of Montgomery Embracing and Nurturing Hope Of Prevention and Eradication of breast cancer). Last Fall, I had a dream that has now become a reality – a foundation to provide education, promote awareness and help those patients and families that are facing breast cancer. HOPE is the assurance that one day we will all be able to live cancer free. I founded this organization so that other women (and men) can have the support and education that was not available at the time I was diagnosed.

Had it not been for my yearly mammogram I would not be here today! Had it not been for the huge "speed bump" in my life, my dream for Women of Hope would not be a reality! For those of you who have helped make all of this possible, I thank you. To my family and friends, thank you for your prayers, support and patience - I love you all. And to my God, thank you for loving me and giving me wings to rise above the storms of life.

Remember, it is not the burdens of life that weigh us down; it is how we handle them. "Those who HOPE in the Lord will renew their strength, they will soar on wings like eagles." Isaiah 40:31.