I’ve never been quite sure why anyone that has actually had breast cancer needs the whole month of October to be reminded of the minutes, hours, days, weeks, and months that they had breast cancer. I will never forget the minutes when I first discovered the lump in my right breast when I was laying in my bed late one night.
I will never forget the hour in the waiting room just before the doctor told me that my mammogram showed triple negative breast cancer and that my breast would probably most definitely have to be removed.
I will never forget the following weeks finding out that our insurance didn’t cover cancer treatment. I will never forget the meetings in offices with financial help people who could not help me because I was not uninsured. I will never forget speaking to the various cancer associations on the phone who could not help me because I was not uninsured.
I will never forget writing the check for the surgery to place the port in my chest so I could have the chemotherapy although I had no idea how I was going to pay for it. I will never forget telling my immediate and extended family that I had breast cancer and my insurance was not going to pay for it.
I will never forget sitting in a room with at least 30 other men and women having toxic drugs pumped into their bodies week after week. I will never forget shaving my head completely bald instead of waiting for it to fall out in big clumps.
I will never forget the blood tech trying unsuccessfully to get blood out of my port and every week having to take it from my arm. I will never forget sitting alone in my bedroom for hours because my family (especially my husband) did not know what to say to me so they said nothing.
I will never forget wanting my only sister to come and spend time with me and she couldn’t or wouldn’t come. I will never forget having a lumpectomy 4 days after Christmas. I will never forget driving myself every week for 12 weeks to radiation treatment.
I will never forget sitting in the attorney’s office and signing my name to the bankruptcy papers just a few weeks after I was diagnosed “cancer free.”
Why do I need a whole month to remember all of this?
I’ll tell you why. Because I will always remember when I told my friends and family that my insurance was not going to cover my cancer treatment and checks started coming in from all around the United States -- from $25 to $1,000. People who had no more money than I did sent me what they could. People who knew and loved me and perfect strangers.
I will always remember one of my oldest daughter’s friends saying, “I found someone who will pay for the chemo treatments ($3500 a pop! – I needed at least 10). Just have them send the bills to me.”
I will always remember when my daughter who lived thousands of miles away from me called and said, “Mom, we are moving to St. Augustine to take care of you.” My son-in-law got permission to work from home for a year; they put their 4 year old in school here and my daughter cleaned and took care of me and my home.
I remember her taking me to the chemo treatments. She prepared a little lunch box with snacks and brought books and sudoku and a blanket. And she sat beside me, and this place was like sitting in hell for 3 hours each week. I will always remember watching her and her husband go through cookbooks looking for the perfect healthy recipes to combat the bad cancer cells.
I will always remember my daughters, my son-in law, my granddaughter, my grandson, and my husband, dressing up in hats and scarves and bathing suits and Hawaiian shirts on the night I shaved my head and taking tons of pictures to make me feel comfortable in my new look.
I will always remember my family taking me to “Music by the Sea” and everyone dancing in the sand and making me laugh until I cried – not because of pain – but because I was so damned happy. I will always remember that my grandson Wayne was born in St. Augustine because his family had come here to live.
I will always remember how I felt when my surgeon’s nurse handed me the bill for the lumpectomy and it said balance due $0 - because my doctor knew I couldn’t pay and she did it anyway. (By the way, every radiologist and doctor that examines that surgical site says it is one of the best and least invasive sites they have ever seen!)
I will always remember needing a test and not knowing how I was going to pay for it, and my nurse said, “Let me check with Pink Up the Pace. I bet they will cover it.” They did, and that was the beginning of a lifelong friendship with Cindy Ortiz and Susan Foody – two of the most special women on this planet.
I will always remember waking up from surgery with my 83 year old Mom by my side because she said it was her duty to be there. She flew here by herself and patiently sat in the waiting room until she could see me. She stayed in town until she knew I was ok.
I lived through breast cancer and I have memories that I can never forget. But because of cancer, I will always remember that when times are freaking tough, family and friends will step up and that’s really all that matters.
Images courtesy of Jacqui Depas.
P. K. McGill is a 4-year breast cancer survivor who lives and loves her life in "Little Margaritaville" in St. Augustine, FL. She loves to laugh and luckily she has a husband, 2 daughters, a granddaughter, and 2 grandsons that say and do the funniest things every day! Her mantra - "Laughter is the best medicine!"
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