When I was diagnosed 22 years ago, things were quite different. Sometimes I feel like I had breast cancer in the dark ages. And in many ways, I did. There was very little information. This was pre-internet. The library had books on the subject but they were medical journals that I couldn’t understand. Now I see women who come through our support group and I’m amazed at how informed they are because of the internet. In 1989 there weren’t even articles in women’s magazines. Now hardly a month goes by without features about new studies.
I became involved with the PBCC at its very beginning. Four years after my diagnosis I was invited to a meeting about a new organization that was just starting up. That was a good year, 1993. The PBCC was created and so was the ABC’S (All Breast Cancer Survivors) support group in Carlisle, and I’m still very involved with both groups. The PBCC gave me the wings I needed to fly and to do more than I had done before. I was able to speak to groups, become involved in advocacy, and to be a helping hand to newly diagnosed women. That’s when I really blossomed.
People ask me why I’m still involved with support group after so many years. It’s my way of showing appreciation for what was offered to me. With a diagnosis of any kind, you can crawl in a corner and have a lifetime pity party. I opted not to do that. My kids were 14 and 20 years old so I could talk with them and share whatever the doctor told me. My heart breaks for moms whose small children only know that mommy is sick. I knew everyone around me would respond to whatever way I accepted the diagnosis. My theory is when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. I made a lot of lemonade.
I discovered a lump in August 1988 and had a mammogram right away. It seemed to be nothing more than just a thickening. I was scheduled to see my doctor again in January and that suited me just fine. After all, my husband Ralph coached soccer and my son Mark played. So I wanted to get through soccer season, Thanksgiving and Christmas first. But before Christmas my breasts became engorged and the nipple inverted. I knew I had a problem. A biopsy confirmed that the milk ducts had filled with a malignancy.
I had a modified radical mastectomy at the age of 44. I had positive nodes and underwent six months of chemotherapy, 12 treatments twice a month. I was fortunate to have a surgeon who was informative and a hand-holder, a very understanding and compassionate person.
I learn something from the incredible group of women in the ABC’S every time we get together. I learn from their drive, and from how they fight to make things better for those who will follow. I’ve also been awed by the dear friends we’ve lost from our group and how courageous they were. They taught us to be brave and to look at life as a gift and to continue to care about others.
I want other women to know that they are not alone, especially in Pennsylvania. First of all, you have the PBCC. And you have free treatment for breast cancer. We are very blessed in this state. Having breast cancer is like joining a club… a group that you never really want to join, but once diagnosed you are grateful for the women who take your hand and walk you through it. They are your friends for life.
Karen Byers has been a PBCC volunteer since 1993. She coordinates the registration booth at the conference with the ABC’S, and represents Cumberland County in our traveling photo exhibit. Karen was a past recipient of the Shining Light Award at the PBCC Conference. She loves spending time with the lights of her life, her grandchildren.