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Breast CancerPatient StoriesSurvivorship

My Journey from Diagnosis to Survival

When Sandra Lewis found out she was a carrier of the BRCA2 gene mutation, she was determined to get informed. She learned to embrace the moment, focused on the facets of her life that she could control, and remembered to smile as part of healing.
October 2020 Vol 6 No 5
Sandra Lewis
Puyallup, Washington

Life was good. I was physically fit, healthy, happily living my best life. I went to have my annual screening, as always. This time, however, I was asked to come back for more images.

Suddenly I was faced with a cancer diagnosis that shook my world, a diagnosis of a triple-negative breast cancer. In addition, I had a genetic test that showed I was a carrier of the BRCA2 gene mutation, which is a risk factor for breast cancer.

The Plan and Test

I began to gather information about my disease, knowing that knowledge conquers fear. I was introduced to an elite physician team at Seattle Cancer Care Alliance, who designed a unique plan for my care, toward beating the disease.

The plan included systemic treatment that would extend over the entire year. The treatment plan started with 5 months of chemotherapy followed by surgery. After that, I had 5.5 months of adjuvant chemotherapy. As I journeyed through these various steps, my physical body began to break down.

What do you do when the test picks you, and you did not pick the test? I was very careful not to allow this temporary experience to become a permanent condition in my heart. As I set out on my life’s hardest journey, with the roadmap of my treatment plan within my hand, I realized that the journey was not the destination.

Forget the Destination

I began to maximize each day of the week. As I began to put one foot in front of the other, the scenery all around me began to change. This let me know that I was progressively moving life forward—hopeful.

When I was a kid, my parents would take me and my siblings on a road trip through the countryside of Tennessee and Mississippi to see our family. My mom would point out the various livestock on the different farms.

As kids we were so excited to see the scenery that we forgot all about the destination, as we drove by. We embraced the moment. What would normally seem like a long boring trip, turned into an adventure.

The 90/10 Rule

We applied the 90/10 rule. If 90% of my circumstances is uncontrollable, focus on the 10% that I can control. I did 3 things that helped me move from diagnosis to cure. I added positive people into my life, I smiled more often, and I factored God in.

I began to surround myself with positive, likeminded individuals who were willing to join me in this journey. People who are the wind beneath my wings, and not those whose weight will constantly drag me down.

In my current season, I am defining who belongs in my life now. Not everybody who crosses your path in life is supposed to make the whole journey with you. It does not mean that those people are bad company nor good company. It just means that their story in your life is over.

Smiles Are Free

I learned to control the climate of people whom I allow to invade my space. With these changes in my life, I began to smile more often, even if I was not on candid camera.

An interesting fact about smiling—smile muscles are linked to the part of your brain that determines mood. Even during my treatment, I was never in a bad mood.

Studies say that infants smile an average of 400 times a day, while adults smile an average of 20 times in a single day.

Adults have to turn their frown upside down more, because smiles are free.

The act of smiling is a proved cognitive response that triggers the release of endorphins, dopamine, and serotonin, which make us feel great, and also work as natural pain relievers. Smiling also contributes the ability to recover from all sorts of general life stresses.

Faith and Wisdom

I factor God into my healing, whether it be through a medical or a miraculous intervention; God is the source of all my healing. You don’t just need faith to be healed; you need wisdom to stay healthy. Faith is only as valuable as the thing it is placed in, and my faith is placed in God, who never fails.

I continue to surround myself with friends and family who will encourage me and provide support. I continue to define my path to healing and will not let cancer define me. And I will use my journey to help others.

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Last modified: November 3, 2020

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