Riding the cancer roller coaster

By Bobbi de Córdova-Hanks
Speakers for Life, Founder of Bosom Buddies

May was a very important month for me. On May 22, 1986, I faced the reality with my brand new breast cancer diagnosis that I probably wouldn’t be around five years later. On May 22, 2013, I celebrated 27 years of survival. But it’s been an incredible roller coaster ride.
I’ll never forget that day when the doctor said, “It doesn’t look good. It’s malignant! It’s very advanced breast cancer with a prognosis of about five years.” I remember looking over my shoulder to see the person the doctor was talking about.

It couldn’t be me. I was thin. I was athletic. I was a quasi-vegetarian. No one in my family had breast cancer. When I realized he was talking about me, I got angry. I didn’t want to hear a dire prediction; I wanted to know what he was going to do to save my life! And that began the ride of a lifetime!

My mother and sister, who both became survivors years later, just about moved in, and I always had my beloved husband Jerry by my side. Despite all of this support, there is an isolation that comes with a cancer diagnosis that can’t be helped. You ride that emotional roller coaster on a daily basis.

I decided from Day One that no woman should ever face breast cancer alone and began to look for ways to help others who would follow in my footsteps. Twenty-five years ago I founded Bosom Buddies, now one of the most comprehensive breast cancer programs in North Florida, offering support, advocacy and education. We call the Women’s Center of Jacksonville home, as part of its community education department. What could be better than being part of an organization dedicated to improving the lives of all women? During my cancer journey, my husband Jerry and I co-authored “Tears of Joy,” the true story of my continuing battle against breast, thyroid and skin cancer, and Jerry’s story of losing one wife to cancer and becoming a caregiver again…and again…and again after we met and married. He is truly a co-survivor as all caregivers are. I call them “invisible survivors.”

My advice to newly diagnosed women is to join a support group like Bosom Buddies. It’s a pink sisterhood. When you walk into a Bosom Buddies meeting for the first time you can feel the love in the room. We’ve all walked in your shoes and are willing to help you become a healthy survivor. Learning about the disease is the best weapon against breast cancer. We welcome the opportunity to help you on your cancer journey. We’ve all been where you are right now.
Twenty-seven years and three different primary cancers later, I’m still here, fighting the good fight. What was my mantra during this roller coaster ride? “I’m too busy to die. It’s not in my Daytimer and no other woman will wear my jewelry.” Somehow it’s worked!

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