Imagine getting the news that you have cancer. Now imagine that this is the second time in your life that you have heard this news. Is it easier to process the second time? On the one hand, you have experience and you know what to expect. On the other hand, your past experience may lead you to fear what is to come.
One of my childhood friends (pictured with me on the left), Bryn Colvin, is fighting cancer for the second time in 20 years. In 1987, at the age of 17, she was diagnosed with Hodgkins Disease: cancer of the lymphatic system, which is part of the immune system. When we were in high school together she bravely battled her cancer while the rest of worried about football games and prom dates. About 6 months ago, I finally apoligized to Bryn for my lack of the support at the time. I make no excuses- I just should have been a better supporter. I don’t even remember asking her how she was feeling or if she was scared.
At the time, the treatment protocol for Hodgkins disease was chemotherapy and radiation. It is the radiation portion of the treatment that has most likely caused cancer to resurface 20 years later in the form of breast cancer. Bryn caught the breast cancer early. She is a great advocate of self exams and has gone in for a mammogram every other year since she was told she was a greater risk for breast cancer than most- given her past exposure to radiation. In July, Bryn felt a lump in her breast and went immediately for a mammogram. She was lucky to catch her cancer early and doctors have no doubt that she will beat this cancer too; but, that doesn’t lessen the battle she is waging now.
If I were fighting cancer for the first time, I can’t imagine how difficult it would be to keep a positive attitude. On the second go-round, I might get sucked into some self pity routine. Bryn is having none of that. She looks at this diagnosis as a reason to be thankful for all she has been blessed with: two gorgeous children and a husband who is both selfless and supportive.
In August Bryn opted for a double mastectomy. Her recovery felt long because she was anxious to get back to her busy life with two kids. However, she amazed many of her friends by taking a new teaching job and was back at school getting her classroom ready three weeks post op. Now, even while she is receiving chemotherpy every other week for 16 weeks, she is still finding the energy to get to work and teach her class of 5th graders- thank goodness she doesn’t teach preschool! Surprisingly, Bryn derives some of her positive attitude from having to go to work each day. Once she is up and getting ready, she puts aside her worries and focuses on enriching her students.
Being a mom has made this round of cancer more difficult for Bryn. Even with a network of friends to help and a husband who carries the world on his shoulders, kids still need their mom. Nobody else can substitute for the real thing. Bryn is the kind of mom who doesn’t want to miss a soccer or football game and enjoys being involved in her kids everyday life. It is a hard balancing act when you are tired and nauseated from chemotherapy.
The last thing that Bryn and I talked about the other day is how she feels cancer has stripped of all her external beauty. Her hair has fallen out and her body is scarred from surgery. What she sees in the mirror is one of the hardest hurdles to overcome in the short run. She knows that she will regain her outer beauty, but in the meantime, she has to rely on the inner beauty; which, takes a great deal of courage.
Ever since I have known Bryn, she has possessed more kindness, caring and compassion than many people I know: this is the beauty that shines through her soul. I know that Bryn will beat breast cancer. And she re-emerge stronger and more beautiful (both inside and out) than ever before.