Breast Cancer Survivor
The year: 1992
1. Bill Clinton was elected the 42nd President
of the United States.
2. Whitney Houston released and topped the
charts with "I Will Always Love You."
3. Mobile phones were introduced.
4. Gas was $1.05 at the pumps.
5. The average income was $30,000.
6. AND Karen Arcuri was diagnosed with
I was a single, 34 year old woman, with no family history of breast cancer. I had never even had a mammogram. Before the diagnosis, I remember sharing my concerns with my teammate, Jadine. "Something just doesn't feel right in my left breast." She encouraged me to contact my doctor and check it out. An exam and biopsy followed.
I remember waiting in the examination room listening for footsteps in the hallway to stop at
the door. The door opened, in came the doctor, and then came the words, "Karen, it's cancer."
I remember feeling so lost, so uncertain and so scared. I said, "Can you help me?" It was the first thing that came to mind.
In a week's time I was having surgery – a modified radical mastectomy of the left breast with reconstruction. The procedure I had was the latissimus dorsi flap.
I started chemotherapy after the recovery time.
I didn't miss a day of school other than the Fridays that I was having a treatment. I felt surrounded by an army of angels every day. My cancer survivorship had begun. I remember Jadine planned a road trip driving to Niagara Falls to celebrate the end of the school year to celebrate!
Fast Forward to 1995.
For the last two years of doctor appointments,
I would question the scar line from the flap procedure. It was initially to be red, raised, and bumpy. I would ask about it every visit and say, "This little bump isn't going away." The doctor assured me that the healing process was going as it should and it will take care of itself.
Then in July, I said, "I am really uncomfortable with this small bump." I knew he was frustrated with my questions. I finally felt heard. He agreed to remove it and said, "We'll biopsy it, too."
In the surgeon's office upon my return visit, he shared the news. "Karen, I am so sorry. It's cancer." "Seriously?" I responded. My reaction came from a much different place. I felt stronger, empowered, and informed. I responded, "What's the plan?" We need our voice to be heard by clearly asserting ourselves. We need to be effective self-advocates.
Aggressive chemotherapy was scheduled. My girlfriends and I were together for my head shaving party, and after chemo, I followed up with 21 radiation treatments. And again, I was surrounded by an army of angels, disguised as my girlfriends, their husbands, York Suburban School District and my church family.
York Suburban School District, under the leadership of Superintendent Dr. Robert Dovey and Assistant Superintendent Dr. William Hartman, hired another full-time teacher to be in the classroom with me for the entire school year. Learning was never interrupted. Women in the support group told me that I'd be unable to work due to the protocol that was prescribed. I was determined and tenacious. I am a teacher. It's what I do. Teaching was the best medication during this challenging time of my life. Not one day of school was missed, but for the Fridays I had a treatment.
When radiation started, one of my former student's grandmother, who lived in my neighborhood, offered to pick me up and take me to radiation every weekday at 7:30am and then take me to school. I'll never forget the first day that Verna pulled up in a big Cadillac. I felt like royalty.
The women's bible study were my prayer warriors. My study leader created a calendar with specific prayer needs and bible verses for each day of my treatment. I was comforted by a blanket of prayer every day. Following the weeks of treatment and favorable results, my cancer survivorship was restored.
Defining moments like these unify us in a very special way. The details may vary but they provide all of us with opportunities to refine ourselves and our lives. So, how do I start this refining?
Mary Oliver, the American Poet, asks this profound question:
"TELL ME, WHAT DO YOU PLAN TO DO WITH YOUR ONE WILD AND PRECIOUS LIFE?"
I was a different woman now. Gratitude, love, joy, humility, and a heart for service became very important. I had a personal realignment, which was life-changing. I soon had a renewed awareness of the gift of each new day.
Tommy Newberry, author of the 4:8 principle states, "By the grace of God, each moment is a new beginning, a new dawn for your potential. Your thoughts can become totally different. And as a result, your character can change and your life can be transformed. God wants you to become completely alive; full of passion and bursting with joy."
Every sunset brings the promise of a new dawn, a new day on the planet, a new beginning filled with new blessings, and a fresh start with opportunities, new hopes and the invitation to impact the lives of others. And the best news after a prayerful decision, I decide what kind of day I plan to have and purposefully live it out and make it happen. Let the gift of each new day inspire me to make a difference. Every new day, I make a plan. It has become a lifestyle change.
Research suggests that you can create new habits in just 21 days. I took the challenge. We are blessed to be a blessing. I wanted to be the light in the lives of others. I want others to know they are valued and appreciated. Each day is filled with opportunities. Those opportunities are the daily encouragement that I need to put my plan to work! Be vigilant!
What if instead of waiting for good enough things to happen for us, we decide to be the good thing to happen to someone who's waiting. We gain experience through living and there is much to learn. Seize every opportunity to gain knowledge and insight. We gain strength, courage and confidence through every experience we have.
How can I plan to use my strength and courage to help others on life's journey? Understand that the importance of each person's life story, the value it has, and what we can gain from it. Seize every opportunity to enlighten, challenge and motivate yourself and others. The gains are invaluable.
Author Ann Voscamp states, "Joy is always a function of gratitude and gratitude is always a function of perspective." It's not joy that makes us grateful, it is gratitude that makes us joyful.
How do I look at things? Do I appreciate and recognize the small things? Do I surround myself with positive people? Positive people are critical influencers when it comes to feeling joyful. Embrace the simple experiences and pleasures. When we're moving at 100 mph, we take the simple things for granted. Slow down!
These are often the things that top up our feelings of joy. When you're more present, the simpler things become joyful; the food you eat, the air you breathe, the sounds of nature. See the world through a new lens. It's the feeling of feeling so completely grateful for each new dawn and the experiences you gain. Cultivate joy by living your life intentionally.
We can't control our circumstances but we can change the way we react to them. That makes all the difference. If you can learn to create joy within you, you'll carry it with you wherever you go. And that joy will sustain you.
Our lives are made up of what we choose to look for – intentionally choose joy and you'll find it. Joy is yours for the taking. Reach out and grab it...embrace it...share it.
Turn the ordinary into something extraordinary! We have the power to do extraordinary things in our lives. It just requires some extra effort. We can do it!