About this blog

I was diagnosed with breast cancer on June 11, 2010. As a result of my treatment, I have lymphedema in my left arm. I draw my strength from the Lord, as well as my family's Scots-Irish heritage. Our Graham's were a tough and scrappy bunch of fighters on the Scottish/English border. They came to America and continued to fight when necessary: in the American Revolution; the Civil War; and my brother is a Captain in the U.S. Army. My ancestors settled this country against all odds. My great-grandmothers on both sides of the family were pioneer women who settled the West. Along with that heritage, and the full armor of God, I am walking the walk and fighting the good fight.

Saturday, June 11, 2011

Notable day

We learn really early on what dates are important to us. As kids, we live for that one special day that is "our" day...our birthday! Even Jean-Marc has been talking a lot lately in his cute little voice about "Joo-lye" and how he will be "free."  (Translation-he will be three in July).  It's cute.  As we get older, other dates become important to us: our wedding anniversary; children's birthdays; etc. 

Today I observe a new notable date in my life.  It was one year ago today (June 11) that I was informed of my diagnosis with breast cancer. It's my "cancerversary."  This year, I don't feel like celebrating, although in a way I suppose I celebrate the fact that I am still around. I'm a survivor, right?  

More than anything else, it has made me reflect on those early days.  I had my biopsy on a Monday morning and had to wait until Friday midday to get "the call."  I'm a telephone note taker. Having practiced family law for several years and getting calls from clients, I'm in the habit of taking notes while someone is talking to me on the phone. In practice, I would usually use those notes to draft declarations or other court documents. Last June 11th, as the Kaiser breast cancer nurse "Judy" told me the bad news, I just started writing down words I was hearing. It didn't all make sense, I could figure it out later. But I got the point. I had breast cancer, I would need surgery and chemo, I would lose my  hair. 

I still remember what I was wearing that day. I hung up the phone and looked at Eric, who was in the room with me. "It's not good news," I told him. He let out a strange mix of a gasp, scream and cry and rushed over to give me a hug. I didn't cry, though.  I had gone into steely-eyed survival mode. I didn't even welcome the hug. In fact, I may have even pushed him away a little.  I tried calling my mom, but she wasn't home.  I went upstairs and did what I had planned to do all day--my Jillian Michael's level 3 circuit workout. If you've seen Jillian on "The Biggest Loser" you have seen her train contestants to a point of exhaustion to where they can break through emotionally and process stuff.  I kind of got to that point by the end and let myself cry as I was stretching out.  But that wasn't going to do me any good, so it didn't last long. 

I came back down and called my mom.  This time, she answered. I don't remember much about that call, except that I really fought the tears then. I could only imagine how difficult it would be to hear that your child was facing something like cancer. I felt guilty to be bringing on such bad news to the family. Hearing the effect it had on her through her voice was really hard. We were in for some challenges, for sure. 

The day went on as usual, except that I now felt alien. I went to pick up the kids from school. The parents  were all there, as usual, making small talk and chit chat. I usually enjoy these moments of interaction with others. One friend had gotten a really short haircut that day and there was a lot of comment on that. I just stood there, smiling on the outside, but inside my head screaming......"I've got cancer! Nothing is going to be the same again!"  It isn't the kind of information bomb you drop with just a few minutes to explain, so I just kept it to myself. I was glad when the bell rang and the kids came out and I could get out of there. 

That night, I made a recipe from my Jillian Michael's cookbook. It was a meatless dish, so I was prepared for a little bit of complaint from the kids. Especially since I used whole wheat pasta rather than white. I ticked down the list of health benefits of the dish that were listed in the recipe. One of them was "anti-cancer." After I said that, Olivier objected, "No one here has cancer!"  Eric and I just looked at each other.  At some point very soon, we were going to have to tell them. We ended up doing that the next day.  

So much has happened since June 11th last year.  The agonizing wait for surgery. The surgery itself. Those awful drains oozing fluid that we had to measure and dump. Having to sleep on my back for months with multiple pillows propping me up. Painkillers and the constipation they caused. Oh my. That was one of the worst mornings of my life! I learned a big lesson--just take the colace!  I thought a high fiber diet was enough, but it wasn't. Then came chemo and the hair loss. The worst part of chemo for me was what it did to me mentally. I just wasn't myself. It really played with my hormones and moods. It played with it so much that I haven't had a menstrual cycle since September. I probably won't have one again. 

sporting my bandaging
In between chemo and radiation, my lymphedema flared up. In a way, the timing was perfect.  Getting it under control meant multiple visits to the physical therapist each week. Luckily, it was December, and I had more than paid my large deductible for the year. I also was able to learn the bandaging and perfect the massage before radiation would start.  Another notable date for me is December 3rd, which was my last chemo infusion. 

After chemo, radiation was pretty easy up until the last 10 days or so. Just going over to Escondido every day was a hassle. But the treatment itself was fast. It's funny to look at my chest now-that radiated side has a strange tan patch that the other side does not.  Fortunately, my lymphedema stayed under control during the radiation treatments. 

I'm lucky to have a breast cancer that is hormone receptor positive. That means I can treat it with Tamoxifen. The drug basically binds to the estrogen receptors on the cells to prevent cancer from growing. I don't like being on medication for a long period of time, but am glad to be able to take something that has shown to prevent the chances of recurrence.  

As my recent posts have shown, I'm also considering my diet and exercise as a type of continuing treatment. Working out is no longer an option for me. Exercise has shown to reduce cancer in many ways, in addition to the other benefits of being in shape. 

It has been a long year in many ways. But when I tick down the list of everything I've gone through, I'm amazed that I was able to get it all done in less than a year. What a year. I re-read this post and in many ways am still in shock that I am talking about ME, and not someone else. 

I'm not sure how I feel today. I'm thankful to have made it through this far. I give God all the glory for that. He has sustained me, strengthened me, and kept me going each day. He has given me wings like eagles to be able to exercise throughout my treatment.  He has made me feel strong, even when I was in the dark days of chemo-induced psychosis. He has surrounded me with an amazing church family who have prayed for me daily. I've been supported by wonderful friends who brought meals over the summer, and sent many wonderful cards of sympathy and support. I've kept every single one. 

As I go forward, I continue my battle. I struggle with fear of recurrence.  The disease may come back, I know. Having cancer in 5 of 15 lymph nodes is not a good thing. But I can't dwell on that. All I can do is live life every day, making good choices about what I put into my body and what I do with it. I want to praise God from the rooftops and help educate others on how to avoid cancer in the first place.  I know that things really aren't under our control--it all is under God's sovereign hand. He is on the throne, I am not. He allowed me to become part of this "club" of breast cancer warrior-survivors. I pray that I am able to use it for His glory. It may be in His plan that the cancer come back. But I know that He has only the best in mind for me, and even if it kills me, I will ultimately be with Him in heaven for eternity. This life, this body, is just a vapor.  But I would like for it to be as long as possible. 

Here is to many more June 11ths. 

I thank you all from the bottom of my heart for all of your support and prayers over the last year. 


  1. Thanks for sharing this post with all of us, Tonya. Your story is truly inspiring, as is the amazing faith you have retained throughout your journey. It is clear that as a survivor, you understand the incredible impact a cancer diagnosis has on women with the disease, as well as their families. At the CSC (Cancer Support Community) we are trying to better understand the emotional and social needs of breast cancer survivors--please consider sharing your experiences and joining our national movement: www.BreastCancerRegistry.org

    Best wishes, Tonya!

  2. I can't beleive it's been a year already! And what a year.

    I'm so glad you are doing well, mentally and physically.

    And your new picture on the blog is SO cute! Love it. You look great.

    Love, kmom