07/29/2010 10:37 am ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

Not Just Surviving Cancer, but Thriving in It

Today, my mom finishes 6 weeks of radiation to treat Stage 2 breast cancer. While most people think she is quiet and shy -- the fact is she probably is in some ways. But since my dad passed away roughly 10 years ago she has slowly become more confident in dealing with life's many issues. She has negotiated a car purchase, re-modeled a bathroom and maneuvered through Medicare all on her own.

But she really proved her strength when she was diagnosed with breast cancer early this summer. When Drs. Caughran and Padulla from Grand Rapids' Lack's Cancer Center informed her that she had stage 2 breast cancer and would need 6 weeks of radiation, my mom's only response was that she had lots of travel plans this summer so they needed to fit the treatments around her busy schedule.

Since the fright of breast cancer hit our family, I have been surprised by how many people are dealing with breast cancer in their own family or with a loved one. One friend bluntly told me that she has been through it with her sister, her mom and her grandmother and all are healthy and mentally stronger because of the disease. Most women seem to not only know someone with breast cancer but to be completely unafraid of their most common form of the deadly disease.

My mom was no different. She was initially diagnosed with Stage 1 cancer and told that she was probably a good candidate for radiation treatment twice a day for five days. But she wouldn't have surgery to remove the lump until she went off to California on a previously scheduled visit to family and friends. "I'm having the surgery when I get back," she said confidently. "They have to get the paperwork together anyway so I'm not canceling my trip."

The trip to Southern California returned her to Michigan energized with a renewed commitment to beat cancer and get back to her life. Then, after her second surgery to remove more cancerous cells than we previously thought, her diagnosis was updated to Stage 2 cancer and she was counseled to go through 6 weeks of daily radiation. Stretching the radiation treatment into 42 days of the summer was the most troubling for my mom. Her travel plans were important to her mental state and she refused to sacrifice her busy life to cancer. She insisted that the radiation treatments start at a time that coincided with the end of one long trip and finish before the beginning of another. She even adjusted certain daily treatments, doing one in the early morning and the next in the late afternoon so she could take a quick two day trip to accompany her granddaughter on an out-of-town birthday celebration. She has been busy traveling to see friends in Indiana, spending long weekends in Tennessee and attending family functions in Michigan and Minnesota - all fit in around surgeries, appointments and radiation treatments.

Cancer taught my family that my mom is much stronger than we ever thought. Faced with a devastating diagnosis, she just kept going and living - never complaining. And in the process, she proved she isn't just a cancer survivor - she didn't let it change her in any way. My mom finishes her 42nd day of radiation on Thursday. And leaves promptly for a 10-day cruise to Hawaii.