Surviving Breast Cancer | Maria Lopez
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Surviving Breast Cancer | Maria Lopez

Maria Lopez is an officer with the Long Beach Police Department in Long Beach, California.

Tuesday, April 15, 2008 was a beautiful and typical Southern California day. Driving north on the 710 Freeway with my partner, talking and laughing about the job, I suddenly was jolted by a heaviness of spirit I had never experienced. One minute I am talking and laughing and the next, a feeling of doom and dread is overshadowing my every thought. This was so unusual for me, who am usually happy and upbeat. I couldn’t figure out where this feeling came from, but it felt as if my life was as a puff of air in this great universe.

I had been thinking about an upcoming colonoscopy, my first, and was dreading it. With the numerous instances of cancer in my family, I thought that at age 53, it was about time it struck me. But it wasn’t the results of the colonoscopy that were a surprise, but those of my yearly mammogram, which changed who I was forever. It turns out the routine mammogram I had taken the day before had identified a suspicious lump on my left breast and the doctor had been trying to reach me by telephone. I was told that I was being scheduled for a biopsy on Thursday morning. Everything else she said to me is now just a blur. I chose not to tell anyone, not even my husband, so I went to the biopsy alone, mustering all the courage I could find, telling myself this was something I could handle. After being explained the procedure I was taken to another room and laid on my stomach with my breast “flowing” downward through the opening like a fly-away balloon. The bed was raised all the way to the ceiling, and I recall thinking I felt like a car when it is lifted up on hydraulics at the mechanic shop. I lay motionless while my breast was painfully ‘numbed’ so as not to feel the next step in the process. I was told to expect some pressure on my breast, but the hard jolt of what seemed like a rod inserted at the top my breast with a large staple gun almost caught me off guard. I was then patched up and sent home to wait for the results.

The next several days were agonizing, and not because I felt sorry for myself, because deep down I knew I could deal with this and was going to be all right, but I was more concerned about how I was going to tell my husband and family, especially at this time when my 27 year-old niece, Nancy, was fighting and losing her battle with cancer. And did I mention that she was living with me at the time?

When the results came in, I left work and met with the doctor at the breast center alone and was given the news: malignant. Driving home, I called my partner and we cried together over the telephone. That evening, I sat down and told my husband. He sat motionless and speechless, as if not believing what I was saying. I told him that nothing was going to change the way we did things and after leaving him in the room, I prepared dinner as usual.

The days went slowly by as I was scheduled for a partial mastectomy on May 23rd. I spent a week at home and then went back to work. In June my husband and I went to Savannah to spend a few days with our son and his family. A surprising call from my doctor advised that I needed more surgery and the second partial mastectomy was scheduled for July 7th. Despite my wish that both breasts be removed, insisting to the doctor that they’d served their purpose and I didn’t need them any more, she convinced me not to have a total mastectomy. Again I spent a week at home and then returned to work. Then I worked through the eight weeks of radiation!

Today, as in the early days of my diagnosis and surgeries, I’ve maintained high spirits and always a good attitude toward my cancer. I take my Tamoxifen every day and rarely think of what I went through. It truly helped me to keep as much normalcy in my life by being around family, friends and co-workers, and everyone has been great.

And more good news: Two recent mammograms showed no evidence of residual cancer.

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