By Stephanie Morley, RDH
With a new baby, I was not only fighting cancer for me.
I have had three cancer diagnoses in the past sixteen years.
My first diagnosis was Hodgkin’s lymphoma in 1995. I’ll never forget the day I was told of my biopsy results. It was my first Mothers' Day. Molly was eight weeks old.
The first time you hear you have cancer is definitely the most disturbing. I was scared of the unknown, anxious about my prognosis and treatment, and uncertain of my future health.
Soon I learned this was a very treatable type of cancer with a high cure rate, and rare reoccurrence rate. With a great prognosis ahead, I viewed my cancer as a temporary setback, and decided early on not to let adversity dictate my spirit. I spent the next few months in radiation therapy, working part time practicing dental hygiene, and being a new mommy. Exhausted and grateful, 7 months later, I was cancer free.
With two young daughters, I was not only fighting cancer for me.
Eight years passed. In 2003 my cat scan came back positive. The Hodgkin’s lymphoma had reoccurred. Now Molly was 8, and her little sister, Emily, was 4.
The second time, I was in disbelief that a disease with a 5% reoccurrence rate had found me again although this time the treatment would be different.
I was about to have eight rounds of aggressive chemotherapy.
I was anxious about all that came along with it--nausea, vomiting, ports, and hair loss. Although it wasn’t always pleasant, I endured, and was grateful again that it was not life threatening. I focused on reaching the magic time when this cancer stuff would be over and my life could go back to normal.
With two preteen daughters, I was not only fighting cancer for me.
Five years passed. As an avid runner, I was training for my 8th half marathon. One day, adjusting my running bra, I found a lump in my breast. I was diagnosed with breast cancer in October 2008 on our 19th wedding anniversary. Molly was now 13 years old, and Emily was 9.
By the third time, my attitude was, bring it on! So many lessons come with defeating cancer that you find amazing strength within yourself when strength is your only option.
I was now embarking on a bilateral mastectomy, chemotherapy, and two reconstructive surgeries. This time I had little anxiety about having chemotherapy. I had already experienced the cost of chemo--loss of hair, sometimes my appetite, often my concentration, and premature menopause. All of these I had done before, and was prepared to do again.
Chemotherapy makes a private condition into a public one. Even if you can cover and hide body disfigurement, it’s hard to hide hair loss. Luckily, I bought a couple of great wigs, which I felt comfortable in. I was just me with no hair, and a free Brazilian.
Few people see what their spouse is made of upfront.
As unpleasant things happened to my body--I lost my hair, my eyelashes, and, both of my breasts--Mike never seemed phased. He just wanted me to get better. I was so fortunate to have such unwavering love and support. I live with gratitude and an unquenchable desire to have joy, passion, and purpose in my life. I am continually challenged at keeping my life balanced with my family, my career, giving back, staying fit and healthy, and having fun.
I am fortunate to be practicing clinical dental hygiene now for 24 years, and have a thriving career. I am a much better hygienist, due to having gone through my own adversity. I have an in depth compassion for people with special needs, and who are fighting their own battles. I have been known by some to specialize in SPECIAL.
I hope in some way to inspire other cancer patients, and survivors to stay strong in their faith and spirit, despite adversity, and to persevere to live healthy and active lives.
Emerging from my experiences with cancer, I am stronger in mind, body, and spirit.
Stephanie Morley, RDH, is in clinical practice at Regenerative Solutions, a periodontal specialty practice with Dr. Donald Clem and Dr. Nelson Yen. She is also a Clinical Consultant at Philips/Discus.