By Norma Alford
Having survived breast and uterine cancer, I am occasionally asked how I coped. Although it has been almost twenty years since my ordeal began, I still have no definitive answer. I do know that fate sometimes deals us a hand we don’t want to play.
And so it was with me when, in 2001, I learned through an annual mammogram that I had cancer in my right breast, although I had not felt a lump during my self-examinations. The cancer had metastasized making it almost impossible to detect manually. It was imperative that I have a radical mastectomy as soon as possible. I prayed for the strength to endure whatever lay in store.
A great medical team was assembled that would remove and reconstruct my breast and guide me through the ensuing years of treatment. The surgery took place in December of 2001, and it took a greater toll on me physically and emotionally than I anticipated. The year following the mastectomy, a reduction was performed on the left breast to better balance my body. Although not as draining, this surgery slowed my recovery.
As fate would have it, during this time, 9/11 occurred. The enormity of it changed my perspective in an unexpected way. I realized I’d been focusing solely on myself while thousands had far greater problems to deal with. My outlook improved; I began feeling optimistic about the future.
But fate just won’t leave you alone sometimes. The month my oncologist stopped the cancer medication, I learned I had uterine cancer and that a hysterectomy was necessary. Here we go again, I thought, with the surgeons, the oncologist, the meds and the therapy. The surgery took place in 2007. It never occurred to me that I might die, so I continued to wage war with my determined enemy cancer.
Fate still wasn’t finished with me, however. My older son’s chronic heart condition turned critical. Concerns for my recovery took a back seat to worries over his worsening condition. I eventually prayed for his release from pain and for my ability to handle what inevitably lay ahead. Sadly, he passed away in July of 2011, ten years after the onset of my breast cancer. It was then I discovered that no pain can be as bad as that of losing a child.
Perhaps because my immune system was compromised, arthritis made its dramatic entrance into my life. After everything I’d gone through, I wasn’t about to toss in the towel. Instead, I dug in my heels, found some new resolve and soldiered on, albeit on a walker.
But, back to the question of how I coped. I recently heard an expression that made me smile and decided that might be the answer. “Keep calm and carry on.” Even if you’re not facing a devastating crisis, or if the entire world is in a state of upheaval, it’s not a bad motto to live by. Just keep in mind that fate may be lurking around the corner . . .
As you can tell from the final line in her story, Norma Alford, of Waco, Liberty, and now Austin, is a published mystery writer. At the age of 88, she has written sixteen books, plays, short stories and numerous essays. She was a legal secretary, runway model, actress, athlete and licensed pilot. She has maintained an interest in flying, the arts, sports and, of course, writing. She has a daughter and son and numerous grand and great grandchildren. She can be reached at [email protected]