The Joplin Globe, Joplin, MO

October 22, 2012

Mary Cawlfield, guest columnist: Breast Cancer: A survivor's story

By Mary Cawlfield
Special to The Globe

JOPLIN, Mo. — When I look in the mirror each day, I am taken back to one of the most trying points in my life. The scar I bear as a result of a surgery to rid my body of breast cancer is a reminder of so many things.

It’s a reminder of how blessed I am. It’s a reminder of what was and what could have been. It humbles me. It gives me pride. It forces me to reflect on that battle that I fought … and won.

I don’t know if just anyone can educate others about experiencing cancer; how it affects you and your family; how it changes your life in good ways and bad. Only those with the disease can truly understand it.

When I was diagnosed with Stage I breast cancer in 2009, the only thing I could think of was death. It was one of the most terrifying moments of my life.

I received a call from my nurse practitioner, who asked me to come to her office after I had a biopsy.

In my heart, I knew it wasn’t good. When I got there, she asked me to sit down. Before she could speak, I said, “It’s cancer, isn’t it?” She confirmed that it was. At that moment, the clock seemed to stop. My life was changed forever.

One of the most difficult things about cancer is telling your loved ones. I have a daughter and a son. At the time, they were 12 and 8.

I didn’t want my kids to be fearful that something was going to happen to their mom. They were so young and had already gone through a lot.

Two years before this, their father had a liver transplant, and I wanted to protect them from the fear of losing a parent. It’s a fear that had been all too real for them already.

I decided not to tell them until I absolutely had to. I will never forget the day my daughter stood by me on the patio and asked, “Mom, do you have cancer?” I was shocked that she knew. I told her that I did, and her response still rings in my ears. She said, “I’m not worried. You’ll be OK. You’re strong.” Those words were such a relief. I knew then that I didn’t have to hide the fact that I had cancer. It was OK to let the people in my life know. And thanks to the support of my family and friends, I was able to get through surgery and seven weeks of radiation.

In many ways, my experience with cancer has been a spiritual one. I talk to women about their own battles with the disease. I encourage women to be proactive in their health, because mammograms save lives — including mine. I truly believe that many positives can come out of negative situations. Cancer has made me thankful for what I have. It has also made me aware of the fact that none of us are guaranteed any amount of time on this Earth.

I pray that my negative will be someone else’s positive. I want people to look at me and know that with determination, wonderful physicians and, of course, God’s grace, you can beat this disease.

Mary Cawlfield is a benefit communication specialist for Freeman Health System. She is also a proud cancer survivor.