Breast Cancer Awareness Month: I got breast cancer, my wake-up call to enjoy life

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In March 2012 I was diagnosed with breast cancer with lobular carcinoma in-situ (LCIS). Initially I thought I was going to lose it or shut down, but after talking to my high school friend who was fighting stage IV cancer, I knew that wasn’t an option for me. He laughed through his pain; he pushed forward like no one I’ve ever met in my life. After several biopsies and consultations, I opted to have a bilateral mastectomy, but I had to take care of something extremely important first: I had to party!

My son was getting ready to graduate from high school and not only did I have to be there, I had to be able to celebrate with him and our friends and family, full throttle. I didn’t realize at the time that along with my faith and can-do attitude, celebrating would become such a major part of my cancer journey.

I hadn’t completely wrapped my head around everything I was in store for in the upcoming months — but one thing was certain: God would give me the strength to endure it all. With that knowledge, I resolved that, although cancer affected my life, treatment wasn’t going to change it. In fact, I planned to enjoy my life as much as possible.

Partying before surgery

I was scheduled for surgery in mid-June and knew that I would be somewhat out of action for several weeks, so we celebrated my birthday the weekend before.

The festivities started off with brunch with my girlfriends, followed by an afternoon at the trampoline park and concluded with a surprise “White Party” where we all dressed in white and spent a night out. My objective was to enter the hospital with a positive outlook; I didn’t expect the wealth of immeasurable love, memories and laughter that came with it.

In the following months, I had multiple procedures and before each one I would do something exciting. After each of my visits to The University of Texas: MD Anderson Regional Cancer Center, I would treat myself to frozen yogurt. Before every procedure I would have a fun day, weekend get-a-way, or whatever moved me, or my kids.

Having fun: My way of fighting

Everyone fights differently and that’s okay. I used to watch boxing with my dad and he would say, “Don’t let him get you on the ropes.” Generally, I fight better when I’m backed into a corner because I feel like I don’t have any choice, but to come out on the other side.

I didn’t use that approach this time. I elected to take the offensive. I didn’t wait to get informed and take action. However, I did wait to share my breast cancer experiences, and limited who I shared it with.  Some were upset, but ultimately, I knew that if I wanted to give it my all I couldn’t be treated differently. I believe being selective in sharing my story made me stronger.

As I reflect on my journey, I realize that my mind and life were transformed in a way I could have never imagined. I see how something negative can be turned into something positive and beautiful. Not only did I choose not to put my life on hold, I began to truly live each day as if it was my last, with no thought regarding whether it would be. I learned to not minor in the major things like my family, health, mind, and spirit — and not major in the minor things. I chose to open my eyes wide to see the good, blink at the bad and only speak about the positives in my situation, as well as others.

Living with gusto, not frivolity

In no way would I suggest taking a laissez-faire attitude toward any disease. I took having breast cancer seriously, but I took my life and the role I play in my loved ones’ lives far more seriously. It was important to me to not only protect my children, but also my family and friends who depend on me.

My aunt passed away in Kansas City while I was in the hospital. I watched my mother tend to my every need while trying to help my cousin cope with her loss and with funeral plans from afar. My focus shifted to becoming self-sufficient enough that my mother could go be with her siblings.

Overcoming the obstacles, your way

I completed the final stage of reconstruction surgery in New Orleans last month, and since then, I ate, shopped, and you better believe I celebrated.

Less than a year after my double mastectomy, I went on stage at a bodybuilding competition. I went on to compete in another muscle show this past August and just finished my first Tough Mudder competition this month. Each event had obstacles, but I learned that with persistence, faith and a little sweat, I can accomplish what I set out to do, cancer or no cancer.

My advice to other women going through this is simple – tackle the obstacles your way. No two people are the same. Choose what works best for you and allow your family to support your decisions. Cancer is a journey, there’s no escaping that fact – so why not make some memories along the way?

Sonia Byrd is a breast cancer survivor who was treated at The University of Texas: MD Anderson Cancer Center in Sugar Land, Texas. She lives in Houston with her two children and fiancé. Since being treated for breast cancer, she has competed in multiple fitness competitions – and of course, she partied!