Ellie Weis, Dubuque, Iowa After being a single mom for 15 years of two young boys, I met a wonderful man. We were married after being engaged for two years when he was diagnosed with a rare form of leukemia- he was gone from my life after enduring a bone marrow transplant in a mere six months. I was devastated at the loss of my husband and trying to pick up the pieces of my life. About a year later at a friend’s wedding, I met Cal. We had an instant connection and fell in love instantly. We knew that we could never be apart.
It was the December of 2005 , that I found a lump in my breast. I was anxious because my mother had breast cancer and I knew I was at high risk. I made an appointment with my gynecologist and he, too, was concerned. A mammogram turned into an immediate ultra-sound and I was then referred to a surgeon. I was scheduled for a biopsy the next day. Dr. Ott took a golf ball piece out of my breast to check for cancer. After surgery, he tried to upbeat and as it was two days before Christmas. He told me to go home and enjoy the holidays and he would see me in a few days.
On Christmas Day, Cal surprised me with a gorgeous engagement ring and in front of my entire family, asked me to marry him. I was shocked, but ecstatic! We had only know each other for 8 months but he was sure I was the one he wanted to spend his life with. I said yes! But I remember standing the shower that evening with my diamond sparkling as the water came down sobbing because I felt in my heart the diagnosis would not be good news.
Two days later, I went in for my follow-up appointment. My doctor had me sit down with his nurse and the x-rays and pathology reports. He told me I had a 5.3 cm malignant tumor in my left breast and I would need a radical mastectomy, chemotherapy and radiation. I was crushed. I was 45 years old with two teenage boys, a brand-new fiance and a life I loved so much. I called Cal and he came to the office to comfort me and to discuss our options. A lumpectomy was out of the question because of the size of the tumor and the unclear margins. I was terrified and so sad. I thought my second chance for happiness was over.
Part of me just wanted to stay in denial rather than face my uncertain future. Thank God for Cal, my family and friends for their love and support during this time.It turned out I had Stage 3A Lobular cancer with minimal lymph node involvement. I opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. This would be my first attempt to look to the future with a ‘whole body’. I just wanted to look like a woman, (albeit with strange looking, patchwork breasts) for Cal. He always told he loved me, not my breasts, but I thought it would make me feel more normal. Through it all he has been my rock. His faith in me was unwavering. He never let me lose faith in myself. Times that I just wanted to curl up and never get up again and give in to the self-pity and fear, he pushed me to keep going. Without him, I doubt I would have had the strength to endure my treatment plan. With him, my boys, our families and wonderful friends I somehow made it through it all.
Fast forward three years. I had survived six months of grueling chemotherapy, 34 radiation treatments, 10 surgeries, including a total hysterectomy last fall. I decided it was time to be done with being sick and I wanted to get my body back to being healthy and in the best shape ever! I have a 50th birthday coming up and I want to be strong and fit so hopefully I can have many more. I don’t dread turning 50. I’m just thrilled to still be here to celebrate it. At the beginning of this year, Cal and I joined The GYM, a fitness center in Dubuque, Iowa. Cal had gone with my son Alex as a guest and was very impressed with the place and wanted me to join too so we could go together. We have been working out religiously ever since. I have been working out with one of the personal trainers, Tony Summer. I work out 5-7 times a week, usually for an hour and a half a day. On days I can’t get there, I walked outside and lift weights at home. My poor out-of-shape body had been through it all, but after the initial shock and pain and exhaustion ended I saw my energy levels soar and my stamina improve every time I work out. I spend the majority of my time on the elliptical and treadmill machines doing cardio work-outs. With the help of Tony, I have incorporated weight and strength training. He even read a book on fitness for breast cancer survivors to better understand my challenges and concerns. The weight started coming off and I am seeing amazing results. I have learned how to baby my back and shoulder which have been damaged by the radiation and multiple surgeries. Both my oncologist and my surgeon told me that the more vigorously I exercise, the better, for my overall health and my risk of recurrence.
I feel that when I joined the GYM and started to work out, my focus changed from being sick and worrying that I would die young, to loving my body and taking care of it so I can live a happy, healthy, strong life. For me it is not only about losing 25 pounds and toning up – it is a commitment to Cal, my boys, our families and mostly to myself to being healthy and alive! I used to cringe when people called me a survivor, because I was afraid it would jinx me somehow. But now, I’m proud of it because I didn’t let cancer crush my spirit or my body. I am a survivor! It’s been almost six months now and my conviction and commitment is unwavering. I am not doing this for vanity. My real focus is to be healthy and strong because I want to show other breast cancer patients, there is life after cancer and it is wonderful. The best is yet to be. I have to go now and put on my running shoes and head out the The GYM. I thank God everyday for giving me the opportunity to do this.
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