Breast cancer survivor embarks on a new chapter, marker of time in life

Oct. 6, 2011
The day of Aug. 18, 1995, will always carry meaning for Maureen Murphy Chodaba, RDH. That was the day that she was diagnosed with breast cancer. Chodaba believes that hygienists are attuned with a spirit of healing that has aided her recovery. Now no longer practicing clinical hygiene, Chodaba discusses life since her diagnosis.
By Maureen Murphy Chodaba, RDH
As I look back upon my life, I realize that I categorize my memories as things that happened before August 18, 1995, and things that happened after that date. That was the day that I was diagnosed with breast cancer. That was the day that turned my world upside down, shook it back and forth, and rolled it around until that world was upright again. My cancer presented itself in two different forms: Paget’s disease of the nipple which appears as a scaly rash across the nipple and areola, and infiltrating ductal carcinoma which appeared as a palpable lump. The treatment was a mastectomy followed by 7 treatments of very aggressive chemotherapy. I was very fortunate to have had my career as a registered dental hygienist in clinical practice at that time. Some days I didn’t really feel that way. It wasn’t always easy to get up in the morning, especially when my blood counts were low from chemotherapy. It wasn’t always a joy to place my wig on my bald “chemo head” and try to find the energy to get through my day. But dental hygiene is a healing profession. Hygienists heal their patients through their clinical skills. We scale, we probe, we chart, we x-ray and examine, but do we really see the big picture of what is really happening? Do we fully realize the power of touch? In the course of our busy schedules, how many of us understand and appreciate the gift of human contact? The one on one connection that we are afforded as clinicians is so restorative on so many levels. As a cancer survivor, I learned that healing flows in many directions. Our patients heal us through their own positive energy, a force that makes each and every person a truly unique and sacred individual. My patients boosted my morale, lifted my spirits, and made me laugh. Even some of the more “difficult” personalities touched my soul. They made me realize that we are all here in this world together. We are all part of an energy that is much bigger than all of us. If we just let that energy flow, we can all help each other. I was blessed with this synergism.I now have a new chapter and marker of time in my life. In November 2010, my husband and I both retired from our long time careers and moved from our lifelong home in the Hudson Valley, New York to sunny and beautiful Marco Island, Florida. I’m sure that I will soon look back upon my life and classify my experiences as things that happened before my retirement and things that are happening now in the days after perio probes and curettes. Although I no longer practice clinical dental hygiene, I believe that once you have been a dental hygienist, you are always attuned with a spirit of healing. The first thing I did upon my arrival in Florida was to contact the Marco Island chapter of the American Cancer Society (www.cancer.org) to become a volunteer. I have particularly enjoyed selling t-shirts with the slogan “Fight Like A Girl” at ACS fundraisers held at Stan’s Idle Hour (www.stansidlehour.net), a local restaurant that specializes in good times and generosity to charitable organizations.
I spend my days exercising, reading, cooking, and cherishing every day with my husband, Phil, and our Yorkie, Buster. I love to ride my “pink ribbon bike” (a retirement gift from Phil).
I also wear my “Fight Like A Girl” t-shirt as I jog on the beach. I hope to exemplify an image of breast cancer awareness and healthy living.
Each day I am astounded by the majestic beauty of the surf, the sand, the Wedgwood blue sky and the legendary “green flash” from the sun as it slips into the Gulf of Mexico at night. I wait for it to rise again and begin another day of living. There is a tremendous source of healing in our universe! Engage in that healing! Celebrate life!
Maureen Murphy Chodaba, RDH, is a 1977 graduate of Onondaga Community College, Syracuse, N.Y. She is a 2005 Sunstar RDH Award of Distinction recipient.