By Libby Riley
On July 16, 2020, I received a phone call at 8:04pm that would change our lives forever. The phone call was from the Breast Center, with the results of the biopsies done two days prior, after my annual mammogram showed two suspicious masses in my right breast. I have said multiple times over the past 18 months that I NEVER ever thought I would be diagnosed with breast cancer in a million years. But, since then, I have learned that you can never say never.
In the past year and a half, I have had 55 appointments with at least ten different doctors, 18+ scans, tests, or biopsy procedures, and 4 MAJOR surgeries. As a result, I have lost every organ that made me female and have had to cope with the grief that has come with those losses. In addition, I am on six different prescription medications and multiple over-the-counter medications to counteract the side effects from the prescribed meds.
I am NOT the same person I was on July 16, 2020, and I never will be.
Cancer has forever changed me; in some ways, it has been a positive for me, but in other ways, a negative. A cancer diagnosis tends to bring your life into perspective and cause you to separate the IMPORTANT from the TRIVIAL. It has forced me to face my mortality and to be hyper-vigilant about my health AND my husband & boys’ health as well. There have been many times that I sit at night in our family room watching TV with my husband and wonder if I need to start writing things down for him & the boys, just in case. YES, it does cross my mind. Statements that I usually prefaced with “if I ever get hit by a bus…” now get prefaced in the back of my head with “if I die from breast cancer.” I have never had a medical directive until my mastectomy surgery. Now I do. It is on file with the hospital, a copy lives in our safe, and a copy with my sister in New Jersey. Again, just in case.
I have worked hard to refocus my anxiety and fear of recurrence. Cancer survivors have told me that those feelings lessen over time, but people say that about death, too; so, I’m not sure if it’s true or not. I have met many amazing women through the breast cancer community in the past year and a half and draw strength from their stories of survival, resilience, and hope. I TRY my best to live a hopeful life and not let the little “what ifs” that live in the corner of my mind come out too often.
I look for the silver linings when I can. Whether by paying it forward to other breast cancer warriors or making a connection with another woman in a different part of the country, all because we both have a similar diagnosis and treatment path. I tend to appreciate the little things more - a pink sunset, my husband wearing a “Hope is Stronger than Fear” bracelet 24×7, my boys wearing pink ribbon socks, or a beautiful pink hydrangea blooming in our yard for the first time. I focus on my gratitude and being kind to myself and remembering that cancer is not a one-and-done disease. It is a never-ending story and a part of my life forever.
The day that changed my life was transformative. From it was born the NEXT me because I am not NEW, I am different both physically & emotionally, and I am forever changed.
On 8/31/21, we not only celebrated our 19th wedding anniversary, but we also celebrated my 1-year “cancerversary” of being NED. It was a big deal. Some people may wonder why cancer survivors celebrate these dates. They are milestones on the path of our lives and dates that will always have meaning, whether they be good or bad. My husband and I celebrated the day by taking off work, having lunch together, and just spending time alone, but we also did what I promised myself I would do if I made it through my first year as a cancer survivor – and that was by getting a new and very special tattoo. Through my plastic surgeon, we got the name of a medical tattoo artist who does traditional tattoo work and mastectomy tattoos. I did not do a mastectomy tattoo because I was still not finished with my reconstruction. Kerry did a “Warrior” tattoo and a pink ribbon tattoo, and I was able to get to know her to also plan for future work.
I haven’t had to go through as much as some women do regarding treatment; and I have always been open and willing to share my experience when it comes to my journey. Breast cancer forever changed me, and I feel driven to make a difference. Do I know what the future holds for me? No….do any of us? I am just grateful for each day that I am here and that I can wake up and enjoy another day.
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Diagnosed at 51, Stage 1a ER+/PR-, HER2- IDC,DCIS & LCIS bilateral mastectomy w/ reconstruction
Thank you for allowing us to share your story, Libby! SBC adores you!
SurvivingBreastCancer.org Resources & Support: