I remember reading in Bernie Siegel's wonderful book Love, Medicine and Miracles, about how the patients he saw that did the best were not the "good patients," who smiled and acquiesced to everything. The "exceptional cancer patients," as he called them, were the complainers; the ones who asked good questions, the ones, who frankly, were pains in the ass. They were the ones who made it despite a terrible prognosis.
These patients Siegel describes are "self-reliant and seek solutions rather than slip into depression. They interpret problems as redirections."
I read that book when I was going through treatment for stage II breast cancer back in February 2002. It opened my eyes that I could do something to impact my survival. It was a start. I was 39 and our daughter was only three. My oncologist proclaimed my prognosis was excellent - no lymph node involvement and the surgeon had clear margins after a lumpectomy. I was treated aggressively with a toxic brew of chemotherapy and radiation. If cancer didn't come back after five years, I was practically home-free, or so I was told.
Fast forward to February 2008. I was working as a public relations professional at large teaching hospital.
I started to notice swelling in my right armpit. It would come and go, and it started to concern me. When I called my breast surgeon, one of those rare doctors who will actually get on the phone with you, she dismissed it, saying it was probably hormonal. I breathed a sigh of relief and went back to my busy life. But the swelling continued. In time, it was not going down and I started to get severe shooting pains down my arm.
Amazingly, I allowed this to happen for a while before calling my surgeon again and demanding to go in and see her. It had been a long time since I read Siegel's book. I had been a complacent patient, and, I believe, in a bit of denial.
My worst fears became a reality: I had stage IV cancer. That was seven years ago, and I am still here!
I believe I've turned the proverbial lemon into lemonade by starting a blog, Miracle Survivors, and releasing two books, both compilations of stage IV survivors who have beat the odds. I wanted to show it can be done and share lessons learned.
One of the biggest lessons for me is learning to be my own advocate. I truly believe I wouldn't be alive today if I had not found my metastatic network and didn't have the tenacity to do all the hard work it takes to travel to get several opinions, do research and question my care. These connections have saved my life.
If you lead a corporation, you hire good people with expertise to do their jobs. But you're still the boss. That's how I try to look at my medical experience. I have the right to hire and fire doctors. If a doctor gives up and acts like he/she doesn't care, they're off my payroll. I will look for someone who won't give up on me and has new ideas. And I won't just listen to them and follow blindly.
I'll do the research myself, consult with other people, and make an educated decision. The buck stops here, as they say.
My daughter is completing her sophomore year in high school this spring, and I am optimistic that I'll be here to celebrate her graduation and throughout her college years. Mike and I even talk about where we might live when we become empty nesters. I will keep doing whatever it takes because life is too precious to leave up to someone else.
After being diagnosed with a metastatic breast cancer recurrence at age 45, Tami Boehmer began interviewing survivors nationwide who survived and thrived years beyond what statistics predicted. Tami compiled these inspirational stories into her award-winning book, From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds. Her second book, Miracle Survivors, was released by Skyhorse Publishing in November 2014. When she is not speaking to groups or mentoring fellow cancer survivors, Tami enjoys time with her husband Mike, daughter Chrissy and furry feline AJ. Recognized as a top cancer blogger, Tami writes about her experiences, and shares valuable information on healing the body, mind and spirit; on her Web site and blog www.miraclesurvivors.com.