Throughout life, if you're lucky, you meet a handful of people with whom you share an immediate bond. A connection that seems to have already existed, even though you just met.
For me, my friend Vicki is one of those people. We met at the Rochester Athletic Club when we were both pregnant with our first kids and quickly discovered some pretty incredible coincidences, including: We each had two babies who shared similar due dates, we both have two sisters, we were married the exact same year, day and time, we had the same childhood nicknames (Fifi, Feef for short) and we looked alike -- still do.
Once when Vicki was out on a run, she emergently had to use a bathroom and knocked on a stranger's door. He welcomed her in and wished her well afterwards. Only then did he say to himself, "Wait. That wasn't Viv." He had thought she was me.
When our kids were still babies, Vicki moved away with her husband and two children. There were months that would pass without us talking. But that didn't matter. We both knew that we would always be there for each other. Years passed and Vicki received her first diagnosis of breast cancer.
"It started with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS)," says Vicki. "I had radiation. But it was too large for a lumpectomy, so I had a bilateral mastectomy. And then reconstruction."
The American Cancer Society's website says that one in five new breast cancer cases will be DCIS, and that most of those cases will be cured. A diagnosis of DCIS means that cancerous cells are in the lining of the ducts of the breast, but they have not spread. Treatment may include lumpectomy, mastectomy, radiation and hormone therapy.
Vicki, who always has a smile on her face and positive attitude, assured me that she was fine. She had this. She sailed through surgery and treatment without showing a hint of anxiety or fear. I didn't see her until months afterwards. She was cancer-free.
But in 2020, Vicki found a lump. The National Cancer Institute reports that while mastectomy surgery greatly reduces your risk of breast cancer, the risk is not zero. Some breast tissue remains and a cancer could potentially form there. A biopsy revealed that this time Vicki had invasive breast cancer. She faced surgery, chemo and radiation.
"It was a shock because I never thought that I would have cancer again," says Vicki. "But then I thought, alright. Here we go again. Let's do this. Drop me the ball and I'm going to run with it."
And run with it, she did. With a smile on her face, Vicki embraced the positive.
I, on the other hand, burst into tears after hearing the news. Fear and dread of the unknown gripped me. When she asked if I could come stay for a couple of days to drive her to chemo, I hopped in the car.
When I arrived, Vicki greeted me with a radiant smile, a burst of happy energy and a spread of delicious food. Her presence at that moment began to melt the icy cloak of worry I had subconsciously wrapped around me. Maybe realistic optimism did make you feel better.
During my stay, Vicki inspired me to see the joy of living, to embrace love that exists and to be grateful for all that I have. I was supposed to be there to help her through two tough days of chemo. Instead, she gave me those three pearls of wisdom.
"I have heard from my doctors that attitude is everything," says Vicki. "Being positive about how good breast cancer treatment has become keeps me going. Waking up and meditating or heading outside for a walk in the beauty of nature makes me feel happy. And being around friends and family makes me incredibly grateful."
Vicki recently completed her treatment and admits that it wasn't always easy. She says there were times when the chemo flattened her and negativity threatened to derail her. But Vicki is triumphant. Looking back, I now realize that her attitude then was not just a response to the cancer. It's who she is and who she has always been. A ray of light that shines for others.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reports that breast cancer is the second most common cancer for women in the U.S. And that each year, close to a quarter of a million cases are diagnosed. Breast cancer is curable if caught early and researchers continue to search for new and better ways to fight the many forms of this disease.