by Angela Long
I have determined…life is a roller coaster that we get to ride one time, and it’s mostly in the dark. My ride started off pretty smoothly….with the typical ups and downs. Until that day in February of 2004 when I heard those three little words that would forever change my life… “You have cancer.” I was 35, married to my high school sweetheart, and mother to our son and daughter who were only five and two years of age.
When I heard those words, my roller coaster went into a free fall. Panic and fear set in, not only for my own life, but more importantly for the lives of those who were on my ride with me. It was breast cancer that had spread to my lymph nodes and was considered to be late stage two. The next year and a half included six surgeries, eight rounds of chemotherapy, and twelve months of Herceptin. During that period, when I was not in treatment, surgery or tending to my two young children, I spent my time caught in thought, wondering if I would have the privilege to see them grow to be adults or even big kids. It was a constant struggle to keep myself from going to dark places in my mind.
After I had completed treatment, I attempted to reach my new normal, but I continued to battle with the fear of my cancer returning. At that point in my journey, my ride had me in an upside down spiral. I didn’t know who I was, where I was, and I had no idea where I was going. What really helped me through this difficult time and out of my spiral was helping others during their cancer journey. Those who knew me would reach out to me if they had a young patient or friend who was diagnosed with breast cancer. Mentoring and offering support to these women seemed to give me a new perspective on my own situation and give my struggle a purpose. I could hold their hands, lend an ear, and give them a form of comfort because I had been there too. As the years went on, I found myself getting more involved in advocacy in my community and educating on breast self-awareness and early detection. I became a fundraiser for local nonprofits to help further research and survivorship support. As a result the more involved I got, the more I realized how much information and resources are available to assist us.…provided we know about them.
This realization led me to my vision to create an online tool to bring all of this information into one comprehensive breast health resource to empower those affected by breast cancer to make the best, most informed decisions about their breast health and well being. I had a vision of a breast health network where proactive individuals, survivors, health professionals and support organizations could come together online to gain and share information and resources. Breast Investigators was created to take the mystery out of breast cancer.
My advocacy involvement has brought about many exciting twists and turns in my life. I’m thankful to my mentors who have helped build the track underneath me on my journey and all who have encouraged and supported me along the way. I’m thankful for my family, friends and supporters for they are what keep my ride operational. And I am most thankful to God for all of the highs, lows, twists, turns, loops, spirals, climbs and free falls that have brought me to where I am today — a place where everyday is a gift and an opportunity to make a difference. To conclude, I would like to end with a quotation by author Kristen Ashley that sums up the best advice I can give.
“Life’s a roller coaster. Best damn ride in the park. You don’t close your eyes, hold on and wait for it to be over, babe. You keep your eyes open, lift your hands straight up in the air and enjoy the ride for as long as it lasts.”