No one should ever go through a life challenge alone. Few do. Because we all feel the deepest of human experiences together – love and loss. When forced to make a choice, when pushed to decide to live or to die, most of us want to take the road most traveled, the one to survival. The most uplifting part of the journey is that all along the path are people willing to lend a hand.
Everyone has a story.
I am Mark Brodinsky and this is The Sunday Series.
“The first thing you think about is your kids – oh my god I’m dying – or I could die. I tried not to go there in my thoughts. The main thing is you think about the people you love.” – Ellen Logwood
It was the lump Ellen felt in June of 2013 – she thought maybe it was just the scar tissue from the breast lift she had done less than a decade prior. Even the doctors thought so, that is until the sonograms showed a second lump.
Then all bets were off.
“The doctor removed them (the lumps) and biopsied them, all along thinking they were benign cysts”, says Ellen. But two days after the biopsy I got a call at work. It was Friday June 14th, the call was from my gynecologist , and he said he did not have good news. He said it was super early, stage one, but I wasn’t so sure.” The same day Ellen was on the phone to Doctor Michael Schultz, who wasted not time, scheduling an appointment for 6am the following Monday.
Then the weekend got in the way.
Ellen says there was too much time to reflect, too much time to worry, too much time for fear, too much time on her hands. Plus it was her son Spencer’s 6th birthday. At least there was some distraction, but doing something special for her son just made her think about her family all the more. Ellen says it’s not being there for the ones you love and who rely on you that is the scariest. “I thought holy sh*t, how am I going to take care of my kids? Am I going to lose my hair? Throw up? How am I going to work? Will there be a reoccurrence?”
The following days brought answers and a road map for what was to come. Ellen says Dr Schultz knew right away the cancer was Stage 2, not Stage 1. “When he did the exam he biopsied the lymph node he felt”, she says, “which scared me because if it gets in the lymph node who knows where it is. He decided to do a PET scan, and then we waited. During those days I didn’t want to talk or deal with anybody.”
The news from the PET scan turned out to be in her favor, the lymph node was negative, but an MRI of Ellen’s left breast showed it was completely filled with cancer cells. “Doctor Schulz showed me the scan and then made the plan, 16 treatments of chemotherapy and 33 radiation treatments, nearly a year and a half of treatments before the decision to do a single mastectomy.”
During that time it was all about the “village” with overwhelming support and one special friend who made every step of the journey with Ellen. “My friend Kim Koppel, she went to every appointment with me, every chemo and oncology appointment with me. She took notes. I didn’t do that, I stared at the ground, she made a binder and did everything, I didn’t have to worry about a thing.”
But there was one thing Ellen could do for herself, which was keep her mind focused in the right direction, moving forward. “You’ve got to go into it positive”, says Ellen. “I didn’t take off work, I went into it thinking I’m going to be OK. I’m not going to be sick, I’m going to be fine. Let’s get it done so it can be over. I didn’t feel sorry for myself because there is always someone who has it worse. I’m not on my deathbed, There are people who are. I didn’t let it overwhelm me. I said to myself I’m going to deal with this. I have breast cancer and I’m going to beat it. I didn’t think what if – I tried not to think too much about it. I just did it. You have to keep active, it’s healthy for your mind. If you go into it thinking oh sh*t why me, then that’s trouble. I have a client who died from ALS, that was bad, this I can handle.”
And handling “it” means everyone is involved. Once chemotherapy began, Ellen had her children, Sara and Spencer shave her head. She says, “when you have kids you have to show them you are brave and that you are OK. They are the most important thing, they look at me, they see me, I didn’t want them to be scared.”
Helping to alleviate Ellen’s fears and keep her positive and motivated is the tremendous support system – it’s always the community coming together to help someone in need – and this situation was no different. “People don’t realize how support helps”, says Ellen. “People think they are annoying you, but they’re not. I could cry talking about it. There are so many people who love and support me it is UNBELIEVABLE. People send me gifts and cards and flowers and some of those people I haven’t seen in years. I have just seen so much good during this whole journey. All of the support just showed me how lucky I am.”
More recently, since the chemotherapy and radiation treatments ended, Ellen has been through a painful and confusing maze of reconstructive surgery on her breasts, including the most recent surgery just a few weeks ago undergoing a latissimus dorsi flap procedure – an oval flap of skin, muscle and blood vessels from the upper back used to reconstruct one of her breasts. Ellen says it was painful – “I cried all night long the first night, I take pain well, but it was very, very painful and I itched everywhere, like I had bugs all over me, back, chest and arms.”
It is now more than two years into the journey and it’s the recent reconstruction surgeries which have been the biggest uphill challenge to overcome. But that’s just it – it’s uphill – it’s not a mountain Ellen Longwood can’t climb! “It’s been two years, I’m done with it”, says Ellen. “Cancer sucks, it affects so many people. There is no rhyme or reason for it, none of my family members had breast cancer. I was 38 when I was diagnosed, no reason to have had a mammogram before then and I’m not BRCA positive.”
But what about the life lesson to be learned here? Ellen says – “you have to find the good in everything. You just have to. I don’t believe everything happens for a reason, but I do believe everything that happens you can find the good in it. And having breast cancer has made me a stronger person, which made me see more good in people, which has made me not sweat the small stuff. People worry about such dumb stuff and I get it, to them it might be a big deal. So many people worry about what they look like, but it’s on the inside that matters and without your health you have nothing. You have to take care of yourself – and – be sure to check your boobs. 🙂
Like most breast cancer victims it’s not the cancer that defines Ellen Logwood. It’s three other words:
Survivor, Warrior, Hero.
Until next time, thanks for taking the time
(October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, for more information: (http://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-cancer-awareness-month)
Mark Brodinsky, Author, Blogger, Podcaster, Speaker, SpeechWriter, Emmy Winner, USHEALTH Advisors
Author: The #1 Amazon Best Seller: It Takes 2. Surviving Breast Cancer: A Spouse’s Story
The Podcast: (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/sunday-series-courage-inspiration/id1028611459)
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