Breast Cancer Survivor Story: Sandy O'Keefe

October 25, 2016
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Every Tuesday in October we share an inspiring story about someone who has fought and survived breast cancer. Today's survivor is Sandy O'Keefe.

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It has been 12 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 40.  A screening mammogram in July 2004 was deemed “clear,” so I was surprised to find a lump myself 3 months later.   It was October―Breast Cancer Awareness Month―and I became very aware.

Having no risk factors and being relatively young, I was shocked and overwhelmed to hear the words “it’s cancer―invasive ductal carcinoma.”  (“Invasive” means it’s everywhere in my body, right?)  Terror and panic set in; my world stood still and spun out of control at the same time.  I had to learn how to live in the cancer world with all its lingo, doctor appointments, various tests, life-altering decisions and the uncertainty of my future.  As scared and overwhelmed as I was, I was just as concerned about my 7-year-old daughter and how this diagnosis would affect her.

Thanks to my family, friends, community and medical professionals, the feelings of shock and overwhelm were soon replaced by the notion that “knowledge is power,” as well as gratitude for Stage 1 breast cancer.   I devoured every book, web site and piece of literature I could find on the subject, as I needed to know everything!!  The more I learned and with each passing day, I realized that I was going to be okay―I could handle this!  I met people with far worse cancers, and while I had my struggles, I felt grateful for my diagnosis.  I had a mastectomy, wore a breast prosthesis, had delayed reconstructive surgery with a tissue expander/implant and took Tamoxifen for 3.5 years versus 5 years due to repeated fainting spells.

It’s a club I never wanted to join, but if I had to, this was the way to do it―early stage breast cancer with a good prognosis.  And “club membership” has afforded me the opportunity to help other women facing a breast cancer diagnosis.  Through support groups, various organizations, and volunteering with the American Cancer Society, I have made connections and formed friendships with amazing women I would not otherwise have known.  It is with empathy and a grateful heart, I continue to reach out to others diagnosed with breast cancer, in the hope of making their journey a little easier.

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