Beyond Words: Surviving Breast Cancer Mistakes and All by Therese Swarts Iverson - HTML preview

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Surviving Breast Cancer Mistakes and All
© 2010 Therese Swarts Iverson

I was diagnosed with breast cancer and didn’t know what to do. Cancer was an unfamiliar topic for me and it was an unknown illness that happened to someone else. Where would I turn for the information, the comfort, and the support that I so desperately needed? I leaned on many people during my battle with cancer and I would like to take this opportunity to thank them. My struggles would have been harder, lonelier, and more uncertain without them in my corner.

To my daughter, Michelle, who visited me every day even though she had a family of her own to take care of and college courses to maintain. She always found the time to drop by and read to me or massage my weakened legs. Her unwavering support was a constant source of strength for her father and for me. Michelle also brought my then two-year-old grandson, Michael, in for visits so that he would not forget who I was—which was very important to me.

To my son, Scott, who visited me in the early morning hours on his way home from work as a deputy with the Sheriff’s Department. He worked the midnight shift and, though he was exhausted, he would quietly wait in my room until I woke up. The mornings were our special time together though few words were spoken. Even without communicating, we shared our feelings, our doubts, and our hopes. I was also thankful for the times he brought my granddaughter, Darbee, in for visits. She was born just two months after my diagnosis, and she was always a precious reminder that life continued.

To my brother, John, who brought Mother in to see me as she no longer drove. And for the many meals he delivered to the hospital from his deli when he came to visit so that Michael could have a break from hospital food.

To my brother, Dave, who rarely missed a day visiting me and always found ways to keep my spirits up. And for the laptop computer that he loaned Michael so that he could correspond with the outside world while he stayed with me in the hospital.

To my brother, Tim, for the courage and patience it took to feed me despite my anger and refusals. For him, no challenge was too great. And for the humor he portrayed throughout his many visits no matter what went wrong.

(Was I imagining it or did the nursing staff have a difficult time telling you guys apart when you were wearing your face masks?)


To my sister, Patricia, who dropped by for visits and took dirty clothes home to wash. And for the many card games we played to keep my mind distracted but alert.

To my sister, Jan, who brought homemade meals for Michael to enjoy when John couldn’t and for the tasty health drinks she made me to supplement my intake. For the many times she questioned my medical care and helped Michael sort it out.

To my mother, Marjorie, who called everyday (whether I could answer the phone or not) and visited whenever she could. I was always reassured in her presence and felt stronger after her visits. For all of her financial support as well. It helped not having to worry about where the additional money would come from when it came time to purchase special clothing, a much-needed wig, or life-enhancing drugs.

In addition, to my family, I want to acknowledge two very special friends from church. To Jody, who assisted me every step of the way as I went through this anguish. She unselfishly called or came by to see how I was doing while offering encouragement and hope. Her knowledge and experience with hospice was a great comfort and resource. I could tell her what I thought and how I felt without being embarrassed. She empowered me when she stated, There is no such thing as a wrong feeling or a stupid question. Whatever feelings I experienced were right for me at that time. And in being reassured —I could be truthful to myself.

To Sister Maureen, who brought me Holy Communion most every week while I was hospitalized. She knew how much my faith meant to me and was always available to pray with me or to just talk. She encouraged me to record my thoughts and feelings and gave me a journal in which to do so.

To my coworkers, who donated sick time when my hours ran out (it didn’t take long to go through four-hundred-plus hours). To be guaranteed a check each week was one less burden for Michael and me to contend with as the bills piled up. (Too bad there can’t be a time-out on bills while there is a time-out on living.)

To the members of my parish who delivered meals to my home each evening during the first weeks of my recovery.

To the people I didn’t personally know, but who kept me in their prayers. These included a prayer group in Detroit, an Indian prayer lodge in Arizona, and a local Buddhist Temple. I firmly believe in the power of prayer and sincerely appreciate the numerous prayer chains and novenas offered on my behalf. And, to leave no stone unturned, added to this mix of petitions was an Indian power shield that my friend, Nancy, gave me. In Native American culture, a power shield is used to help promote and protect a person’s good health and serenity. I consider all beliefs and intentions worthy of consideration.

Last but not least, I want to thank my husband, Michael. No matter what written words I use to describe all he did for me, it wouldn’t come close to the truth. He was my constant in a world that suddenly changed. He was my provider and my motivator. He literally saved my life, and if not for him, there would be no story. For without him, there would be no me.

These are just some of the ways in which my family, friends, and coworkers offered me their love and support. Their help made all the difference, and I achieved what I did because of them. A strong team is essential in any battle, and cancer is no different.

It is my wish that in reading this story you will find solutions where there are questions, encouragement where there is doubt, and hope where there is hopelessness. You are not alone.


When I am asked to talk about my experience with cancer, I’m never quite sure where the story begins. It seems a lifetime ago that I was fighting for my very existence. Many times I wonder how it all happened. I was forty-eight-years-old and going through life doing what I considered all the right things to stay healthy. I exercised everyday, ate fruits and vegetables, and had quit smoking for over twenty years. Suddenly this disease overtook me from the inside and it was all I could do to stay ahead of it. It became a struggle just to remain a functioning person. All the daily tasks that I had taken for granted were no longer possible.

Stop for a moment and think about how you would feel if tomorrow you couldn’t tie your own shoes or get dressed without help, you could no longer feed yourself or take a drink of water without assistance, but most of all, what if you were unable to walk or communicate? Even after all this time, I can see myself in that wheelchair envying others and wondering if I would ever be normal again. The feeling of desperation I felt every time I couldn’t feed myself or sit up on my own was overwhelming. It was a nightmare from which I didn’t know if or when I would ever wake up.

This is not a story about right or wrong. It’s not a story why I survived and someone else didn’t. It’s a story about coping with life and what it throws at you. It’s about staying on the right path through hardships and disappointments. It’s a story about surviving cancer.

I am not in the medical profession and therefore may have some of the terms and descriptions wrong. I am not a mind reader and, therefore, may have misunderstood peoples’ true motives and thoughts. But I am the survivor in this story and it’s a story I need to tell.

This story was written to help people understand that no matter how hard life’s journey has become, it is worth the fight. There were times when I wanted to give in to the exhaustion and the pain; I would feel sorry for myself and want to quit. But then I would be reminded of all I had to live for, such as a husband who counted on me, children who needed me, and grandchildren who deserved to be spoiled. In the end, I ultimately picked myself up and pushed forward again.

This story is also a resource for those who may find themselves traveling a similar path. When I first learned I had cancer, I had no one to turn to. I had only known two people with cancer and neither one talked about it. I wasted a lot of time and energy lost in a maze of confusion. I didn’t know where to direct my doubts or my questions. I realized that it was up to me to search for the answers that would help me make the right decisions. I quickly sought out survivors and talked to them about how they handled the nausea, the hair loss, and the emotional turmoil. They taught me that the grief and fear I felt was normal and that someday the panic would dim. I was searching for a reassurance that I could believe in a future with some degree of hope.


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