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CJ - Bodies of Courage Bodypainted Cancer Survivors

I am CJ, Survivor. Here is my story:

During each the years 2003, 4 and 5, I had a major life changing event.
In 2003, at the age of 51, I adopted a dog, my first pet.
He is a Chocolate Chihuahua, and at just 5 pounds, he made a major change in my life.
I got out more, walked, met the neighbors and made new friends.
That leads me to 2004, I married one of those neighbors, also a first, my first marriage.


In 2005, after only 4 months of marriage, I was diagnosed with Breast Cancer.
This was a big first! Totally unexpected, as I had no family history.
I found the lump myself, because it was painful.
“They” say: “If it hurts, it’s probably not a problem.” WRONG!
Not only was it cancer, it was aggressive cancer.
Growing fast and containing the Her2+ characteristics. (Her2+ is known to be highly recurrent.)
Fortunately, I caught it when it was small.
What followed, in rapid order, were surgeries, chemo, loss of hair, and radiation.
But there was so much in between.
It’s the “in between” that tells the real story.

I would find it difficult to believe that anyone who has had cancer has not been changed by it.
Maybe some less than others, but still change.
For me it was an awakening, as well as a magnifying glass on my life.
I suddenly realized that cancer was more than horrid, sometimes excruciatingly painful, medical treatments.
Every one in your life is also effected.
The Husband not willing to accept the real possibilities, and also, not wanting to watch his wife undergo painful surgeries, procedures and treatments.

The Sister who was mortified that she may lose her best friend, and being so afraid that she couldn’t be there for “ugly” parts, and then feeling guilty for not being there.
The Cousin, an RN, who selflessly traveled hundreds of miles to be there for the surgeries, the Doctors visits, the bandages, the wounds, the drains, the ugly.
The Parents, both 80 years old, and not being able to do anything but stay at home, worry and pray.
The Best Friend from college who truly sacrificed by coming to move in with the newlyweds so that he could cook the food and clean the house. (The husband wouldn’t.)
Cancer is a litmus test of the people in your life.
Sometimes the acid shows!
The good thing is that a lot of people, who never thought they could, really show up!!
They are the heroes of this story.

Some of the nitty gritty details: I had 14 surgeries in an attempt to have breast reconstruction.
It failed.
I was radiated before I started the process. Bad idea, very bad idea.
I wanted to have a double mastectomy with reconstruction, because of the highly recurrent nature of Her2+.
The attempt and failure on the effected breast was such a horrible process I couldn’t possibly go through it again on a healthy breast.
I had a “near-death experience” in one hospital, three systemic infections and an open wound for over three years.

On one occasion my implant fell out into my hand.
I have seen more surgical drains than an OR Nurse, and I hate them.
I have faced some very ugly things, in and on my own body.
It’s not fun. Navigating the Medical World is worse.
Who to trust, who may kill you, who to choose, who to avoid and mostly who is just an arrogant jerk that thinks they can cure the world.
That is the hardest part, being so sick that your bones feel like they are exploding yet you have to keep it together to talk to numerous Doctors and the Insurance company, who is not your friend.
In one year I had 14 doctors and 50 medical appointments.

It tests your mettle; it gives you the right to call yourself a Survivor.
You have just survived hell. You have Survived!!!

CJ, Survivor