Life after Breast Cancer

Jeri E Hunley

Photo by Bonnie Manning

After lengthy chemotherapy treatments. After radical, body and self esteem altering surgery. After the war with breast cancer is won, how does life change for survivors?

Jeri E. Hunley of Fort Wayne was first diagnosed with breast cancer on Friday, July 13, 2007. It was her 44th birthday. “As a woman, I thought it was the beginning of the end. My sexuality, my breasts, were never going to be the same. I lost my beautiful long hair, not to mention every other hair on my body.”

Though the battle was lengthy, involving eventually, a mastectomy, she conquered the disease. She does admit that “Physically it took a toll on my body. Although it’s been seven years, my stamina and strength will never be what they used to be.” Otherwise, though, for the most part, “As far as things changing for me (after the cancer), my life hasn’t changed much. I’m stronger than ever, emotionally.”

What has changed is her marriage. “I was fortunate enough to have a loving husband who was with me every step of the way. He took over all responsibilities of work, managing the household and taking care of me.” Now, however, she is facing what she considers to be a greater challenge than her whole bout with cancer: after being married for 12 years, she and her husband are divorcing.

This opens a whole new world to deal with: dating after breast cancer. “The impact of cancer will affect me more now than it ever did. Putting myself out into the dating world is not going to be easy. Especially at age 51 and very self conscious of my breasts.”

Betty Rowlett was enjoying life. She had been participating in Fort4Fitness’s program for seniors (even being featured in a glo story about it) and was proud of taking such good care of herself. In July of last year, she found a lump on her breast. The diagnosis? Breast cancer. Her active lifestyle was about to change.

Her mastectomy took place on Aug 1, 2013. Rowlett did not let it devastate her: “I couldn’t believe the peace I felt. I told my family I am a winner either way.”

Recently Rowlett returned to the doctor and was declared cancer free. Through it all, she didn’t give up her commitment to exercise: “I am not walking like I was, but now am riding the exercise bike until I gain enough strength to walk again which will be very soon. Now that the year is up and I feel much better, I am beginning to do things I did before.”

Because these women’s stories are not rare at all, the Pink Ribbon Survivor Network provides a virtual library of information for women facing these life changes and others. From how to handle intimacy issues to diet and exercise and more, this website provides help for those facing life after cancer: http://www.pinkribbonsurvivorsnetwork.org/survivors-friends-family/curriculum-for-recovery.

Both women express hope and thanks for the extensions on life they have been given, and intend to make the most of it. “I’m realizing that God has a plan for me,” Hunley says. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger – a cliché, but true,” she says. Rowlett says “This first year has been a very interesting journey and it has taught me to be more thankful for every day that God has given me.”

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About Drema Drudge

Drema Drudge received her MFA in Creative Writing at Spalding University and has had her fiction most recently published in The Louisville Review, Mused, ATG, Mother Earth News, and Penumbra. She is a frequent contributor to the popular Chicken Soup for the Soul series. Drema is married to musician Barry Drudge. They have two grown children, Mia and Zack. Feel free to visit Drema's website where she explores her passion for writing about art at dremadrudge.com.

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