During Breast Cancer Awareness month, we tend to think of pink ribbons, numerous promotions, and Yoplait yogurt. With all of the activity surrounding the month of October, sometimes we look past the real people who have experienced breast cancer, whose journey we can only imagine.
I had the opportunity to talk with Heather Bates, a breast cancer survivor only one day after her reconstructive breast surgery. I was amazed at her upbeat attitude, willingness to talk about her experience, and her vibrant take on life.
“I’m healthy, happy and active; everything’s going really well,” said Bates. “Yesterday’s surgery was the end of my journey. I was chomping at the bit trying to get out and live my life when I was sick.”
Bates was diagnosed with breast cancer in July 2010. A lump that originally was ignored by doctors, was eventually detected through a mammogram at the young age of 33.
When told she had breast cancer, her original thoughts were, “I just have to find my way through this, I’m young. It’s not going to affect me.”
Two months after her diagnosis, Bates visited Stewart’s Caring Place: Cancer Wellness Center. Using Stewart’s services was instrumental for her throughout treatment. Taking advantage of the wig room, foot reflexology and massage appointments acted as a necessary stress reliever for her.
“It’s the one place I could go to without feeling like a freak; without feeling like I was different,” she said.
Although Bates was not interested in the support groups Stewart’s offered, she did find a brochure in the resource library about the Dragon Boat Dream Team, a competitive boat racing team specifically for breast cancer survivors. Finding others with experiences similar to hers, Bates was able to see the light at the end of the tunnel, and helped to show others that “there is life after breast cancer.”
Looking back on her breast cancer journey, Bates now has a newfound appreciation for the little things in life. She realized her worries pre-cancer were trivial compared to what’s important to her now. Friends, family, and living life to the fullest are how she now finds happiness.
“I’m unafraid of any and every new challenge that comes my way; I’m a ‘yes’ person. I survived breast cancer – there’s nothing I can’t take on,” she exclaimed.
Bates now spends a lot more time outdoors, enjoys more time with family and friends, and only allows herself five seconds to get upset about something. There’s no time to waste being negative or unhappy, she explained.
Bates currently lives in Cleveland where she is a transportation planner for RTA.
At Stewart’s Caring Place we understand that everyone’s cancer experience is different and we recognize those differences by offering a wide variety of services that honors choices, and recognizes one’s mind, body and spirit. For more information about cancer support services, please visit www.StewartsCaringPlace.org.