In December 2003, I was diagnosed with stage IIB breast cancer. As with everything else in my life, I tackled the diagnosis by learning as much as possible. My treatment consisted of six months of chemotherapy, a lumpectomy and six weeks of daily radiation. I was fortunate enough to be able to continue to work as a self-employed attorney, throughout my treatment.
As survivors, we all hear about lymphedema, a side effect of lymph node dissection and removal during surgery. I was determined to learn as much as possible about lymphedema and was sent to lympedema therapy. On my very first visit, I was given a two-page list of “do nots,” like: no excessive heat (Hello??? I live in Texas), lift no more than two pounds, no flying, no diving, no sun, and basically, don’t use that arm. I had already broken most of the rules. The therapist was aghast. She also told me that I’d never regain full range of motion on the affected side, so I started swimming only the backstroke, determined to prove them wrong. During a check-up, my breast surgeon listened to me whine about all the things I wasn’t supposed to do and said, “Frances, don’t let them handicap you.” This was all I needed to hear and there has been no turning back. I swim, scuba dive, paddle, travel and pretty much do whatever interests me. I actually completed my first half-marathon earlier this year. My goal was to finish “upright” and that I accomplished!
As I reflect on my cancer experience, so many clichés come to mind — every cloud has a silver lining — life is short, so live it — it ain’t over until the fat lady sings — etc., etc. I have discovered that they are all true! Although breast cancer does not rank as the worse experience of my life — my parents’ deaths holds that ranking — it was no walk in the park either. But, so many wonderful blessings have flowed. But for breast cancer, I would not have met so many wonderful people, who I now count among my dearest friends.
Without breast cancer, I would not have discovered my passion for dragon boating. In 2005, I was introduced to the sport of dragon boating (an ancient Chinese sport). During my first race, I met some amazing Canadian survivors who had been paddling for awhile. The first “all breast cancer survivor” (BCS) team started in Canada in the late 1990’s by Dr. McKenzie, who wanted to prove that exercise was good for the survivor. Although lymphedema is the survivor’s greatest fear behind recurrence, paddling has not been shown to cause lympedema. Paddling does not cause stress to any one part of the body, which means that pretty much anybody can paddle. There are no age, weight, height, or athletic ability limits. We are limited only by what we think we can’t do. All these years later, hundreds of survivors are involved in dragon boating all over the world. This sport is slowing catching on in the U.S. and there are now more than 15 BCS teams.
In 2007, a dedicated group of paddlers formed Pink Phurree (pronounced “Fury”), Texas’ first year round BCS team. We have raced as far away as Windsor, Canada and at least twice a year, in Houston. A few months ago, we received our very own pink dragon boat. Having our own boat not only allows us to practice as much as needed, but we now have the opportunity to move the boat around our fantastic city, sharing this wonderful sport. Our team represents survivors at all levels of treatment, ages and attitudes, with the common goal of showing the world that we are active, vibrant, beautiful, talented, competitive women just having PURE PHUN! We welcome any interested breast cancer survivor to join us.
My name is Frances Arzú and I am a seven-year-survivor of stage IIB breast cancer.
Category: Faces of Cancer