Life After Breast Cancer

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Breast cancer showed me my purpose.

-- Andrea Ivory, 50, diagnosed five years ago

Ivory had a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction after doctors found ductal carcinoma in situ in one breast. She and her husband live in Miami, where she is founder and president of the Florida Breast Health Initiative.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer during a routine mammogram, I shared the news with my husband, my daughter, my stepmom, and eventually my dad. Period. I'm a private person and didn't want the look of pity you get when you tell someone you have cancer. It unleashes all this emotion, and then that's all anyone wants to talk about. Since cancer was the last thing I wanted to talk about, I decided to keep it to myself. But I made an exception for the Wednesday Wonders, my women's Bible-study group. The seven of us are sort of like a book club with Bible study and soul-searching. Every Wednesday we meet to talk about what has been happening in our lives and how those events might help us better understand our purpose

The Wonders are like sisters to me, so how could I keep my cancer a secret from them? And, oddly enough, taking that first baby step opened me up emotionally and made it easier for me to hear other women's breast-cancer stories.

I began to understand that this wasn't about me; millions of other women were in the same boat. I also quickly realized how lucky I am. So many people have lost their fight against cancer because they lacked access to the kind of quality healthcare that saved my life. I still wasn't sure what my purpose was, but I knew it would involve helping other women with breast cancer.

So I began looking for ways to make a difference. That year I participated in a study at the University of Miami and ran in the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure. I also became a buddy for two other women with cancer. Each time I grew a little more comfortable talking about my own experience. Through it all, something my doctor had told me when I was diagnosed kept coming back to me. "You are a poster child for early detection," he'd said. That stuck with me and paved the way for the Florida Breast Health Initiative, the nonprofit I founded in 2005.

Our organization sends volunteers door-to-door in low-income neighborhoods to distribute fact sheets about mammograms, lists of low-cost cancer-screening services in the area, and information about early detection. After three weeks of outreach, we bring a mobile mammography unit so women we've precertified can be screened on the spot. Every door we knock on is a chance to save a life. I can't take credit for our success because it all fell into place so easily. That's what happens when you find your purpose.

Continued on page 4:  Don't call me a survivor.


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