Breast Cancer: a Letter to Jacqueline

breast cancer detected due to sister's insistence on mammogram


Dear Jacqueline,

It’s October again. We both know what that means because the nation will once again turn pink. This is the month you saved my life because the Holy Spirit (and the persistent nature you inherited from our mother) nudged you to nudge me. Your reminders were rather subtle at first and then as the pink month came along you became more like an irritating little gnat that just wouldn’t go away. Thank you for that! It was a month or two before October of 2005 that you realized it had been 7 years since I’d had a mammogram. With a three generation history of breast cancer in our maternal line, that wasn’t a smart thing for me to do. Oh, I knew that I should! But like an ostrich with her head in the sand, I was hiding – I didn’t want to raise those fears again. Every time I went to any doctor or had any diagnostic test, it was a reminder of watching Mom die.  It would bring a deluge of tears and emotions too strong to bear. Five years – that’s how long it took for her to succumb. We’d grown up hearing her talk about – when – not if she would get the diagnosis of that dreaded disease that had killed her mother and grandmother in their 40’s. Then it was her turn, but at least she had lived into her late 50’s.

Now here you were, my pesky, sensible little sister. Yours were the words that finally drove me to go back to the facility I so dreaded. Here I was, in my lovely hospital gown – waiting, praying, sobbing. I promised myself that this time would be the time that I would become consistent in getting a mammogram. When this one turned out normal I would go every year without fail. I promised this to myself as I waited for my turn. Except…

The technician saw something right away. It led to an ultrasound and then a biopsy. Then the confirmation came. I had a sizable tumor and it was aggressive. The surreal feeling of hearing those words, ‘you have cancer’, was a lump of hard cold coal, sitting on my chest. My heart in my throat, I gave up on life at that moment. I was going to die – just like the others before me. There was no point in submitting myself to the hell that is chemotherapy – no point in having surgery. It was over and I cared about nothing more at that point.

Then the family chimed in. They begged and pleaded and prayed as we went to visit each one in person, to tell them the news. With stoic faces, they tried to swallow their own fears and give me the support I so clearly needed. Yet it didn’t sway me. It didn’t matter because it wasn’t them – it was me. This was happening to me and they were safe in their world, even as mine was crashing in all around me.

Our son lived an hour away and we traveled to see him. He and his wife were loving and kind but I went away from their house unmoved. I was going to die so it was over for me. In my heart, I wanted the very best for them – but that simply didn’t include me anymore. They’d get by. They were fine.

That’s when I had an urge to go see Jesus. Their parish had around the clock adoration and my husband and I sought Him for comfort. In a front pew we knelt and cried and prayed. I felt the first stirrings of comfort. Then came the good pastor of the parish. We really didn’t know him all that well but very much loved this holy priest. I asked him to anoint me because I was experiencing an unquenchable hunger for the Sacred (and after all, I was preparing for my inevitable demise). Afterward I shared my feelings with Father B. He looked at me with fire in his eyes and said, ‘you will do all you can to get better! You owe that much to those who love you!’.

We drove in silence for that hour long ride. But in my heart and soul, I too, felt the stirrings of a fire. I felt hope. Most of all, I felt peace…at peace with cancer, at peace with chemo, at peace with whatever it would take to live. That began a long and arduous journey for me and those who loved me. We chose MD Anderson, the #1 cancer facility in the nation, because we were going to give this fight all we had. Our resolve was great and we battled mightily. I can’t say that the fight was easy – it wasn’t. I can’t say that I wasn’t tempted to give up again – I was. But with an amazing husband by my side, caring healthcare providers who prayed with me and wept with me, and a loving family, I managed to submit to chemo and surgeries.

breast cancer chemo look for wedding

My ‘chemo hair’ at daughter, Erika’s, wedding

And here I am – seven years later. Although my type of breast cancer is the most vicious (BRAC-1 triple negative), I am still here – cancer free! During that time God has given me the opportunity to watch our daughter marry and to see the birth of 5 grandchildren. I have lived a wonderful seven years surrounded by family that I love and working in service to the pro-life community. My faith has grown stronger and I continue to yearn for more knowledge, wisdom, and faith.

Had it not been for you, dear sister, I would likely be long gone by now. I would have missed the opportunity to grow and love and serve. As I do every year, I thank you from the bottom of my heart for your loving concern. Your concern was my first step in the right direction. It also makes me smile to know that when you were tested for this terrible gene you were found negative. What a wonderful gift for you! I pray that those loved ones who come after me will be spared what I and now my 31 year old daughter have survived. God is great and He has given us so much!

All my love, Birgit

😳 To find out how to MORALLY help find a cure for Breast Cancer, please read my post from last year – PINK Betrayal

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