Nobody wants to have breast cancer. It's terrible. One day you feel great, and the next day you're suddenly being asked to make all of these life-changing decisions that you know will make you feel physically terrible! No one wants to have five surgeries. No one wants to have months of chemotherapy. But you go ahead and you make these decisions that will change the way your body looks forever and will make your hair fall out, because you have to. Because even though you don't want to do any of these awful things, you WANT to live and be healthy and happy and beat the crap out of cancer. You have to fight.
I was a 33-year-old woman living in New York City with great friends and an active social life, a successful career in public relations, two marathons under my belt and a gym membership card tattered from over-use. All was well in my world. Then I received my breast cancer diagnosis and everything changed. My life was consumed with fighting breast cancer. And I was worried that I didn't personally have what it would take to pull this off. I remember thinking "Oh man, I really hope I can do this."
I guess you never truly know what you are capable of until you are faced with a challenge like this. I got through my breast cancer battle and if I may say so, I did it fairly well. It wasn't easy -- there were very tough moments, both emotionally and physically -- but thankfully my surgeries and treatments all went as smoothly as they could and I was surrounded by the love of my family and friends. You learn so much about yourself and what you are capable of. The amazing support and encouragement I got from others was so important, but physically I was the one going through it all. So when I came out on the other side as a survivor, I was pretty darn impressed that I was able to do it.
When I was diagnosed and going through treatments, I could have easily wallowed in my misery, complained, and stayed home feeling sorry for myself. Instead, I chose to get up every day like a "normal" person, get dressed, pop on my wig, and go to work. It wasn't always easy, and I had to adjust my workload because I didn't always feel well and was pretty tired, but I knew if I went to work it would make the day go faster, I'd feel more productive and chances were, at some point during the day someone would make me laugh. None of that would happen if I stayed home on my couch by myself. It was important to me to keep as many things as "normal" as possible -- I wanted to feel like I still had some normalcy in my life, like going to work, going to the gym, spending time with friends.
Now, I'm a seven-year survivor and for the past four-and-a-half years I've been able to take the personal trauma of battling breast cancer and put it to good use daily and show others that there is hope after a breast cancer diagnosis. As the program director for the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer, I am so proud that the money raised at our events -- more than $470 million in the past 10 years -- helps people get the breast cancer screening and treatment they need, regardless of their ability to pay for it. I was so fortunate to have good health insurance and access to great doctors, but not everyone is so lucky. To know that the work we do every day could ultimately help turn someone's diagnosis into a story of survival is so rewarding. And to know that we are funding research into new treatments, prevention, and ultimately a cure is incredible.
When I think back to the fear and uncertainty I felt after being diagnosed, I also think about all that I've learned from this experience. I've learned how something good can come out of something bad. It strengthened my relationships with my family and friends. I changed my career. (And I ran one more marathon!) At our Avon Walks, I see sisters walking together in celebration of their mom's survivorship, I see mothers and daughters walking together, I see men walking for their wives -- families and friends all come together to celebrate, support and honor those they love. I'd like to think that every time someone is diagnosed with breast cancer, it raises the awareness for those around them, causing those people to become a little more educated and a little more vigilant about their own health. Something good out of something bad.
If you would like to learn more about the Avon Walk for Breast Cancer please visit www.avonwalk.org. And if any of you Huffington Post readers would like to register for one of our 2013 events, please use the promo code "Walk2," to get $10 off your registration fee!
For more by Eloise Caggiano, click here.
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