Marvia Andrews

My name is Marvia Andrews. Writing this has been difficult for me, since it obligates me to sort of relive everything. I feel fine doing that now. And hope others can be helped even in a small way in the process. I can tell you that courage sometimes comes from where you least expect it. And more often than not, that courage is tested the most when faced with adversity. I thought my life was normal since I had never even had surgery before this adversity. I have 2 beautiful and wonderful boys delivered through normal pregnancy and without complications. So I don’t know if that counts for major surgery and it might, since they weighed 10 lbs each at birth! It was a rare thing for me to get sick, honestly. So I had to reach out to family members to confirm any history of breast cancer and there was none on either side. The rest of the seeming normalcy was that I’ve had a steady job in corporate America for almost 3 decades. I even had a personal trainer just a few months prior to being diagnosed, which also made having cancer that much more bizarre since I was in pretty good health, and thought I ate well too. That shows that it could just happen to anyone, really. In the end, one of my plastic surgeons said that because I had a lot of lean tissue in my upper body, then it would heal better in the end. There was some slight truth in that I think, as I’m now in the tail-end of this exceptionally long journey and doing really well. My most recent doctor follow-up was last week and I got a good report card. My body has healed well and there is no trace of any cancer. That was the best news ever. I’m also not required to take any further medications, just a vitamin supplement at the moment. I’m relieved immensely at all of that since there was quite a ‘cocktail of medications’ that I had to take as a cancer patient. That’s all the good news. The road there was quite different, I can assure you. I have endured what has seemed unending medical procedures: a [4] hour surgery for my bilateral mastectomy, removal of 6 under-arm lymph nodes, then 3 more major reconstructive surgeries [2-3 hours each]; 3 biopsies, several ultrasounds, 1 MRI, and a colonoscopy [they thought I had colon cancer, but I don’t]. All of this within 15-months’ time. This is certainly not all inclusive, but this is the gist of it as there were numerous post-op procedures and cancer treatments beyond this list. The list of specialists include an army of professionals in oncology, radiation, hormone therapy, ophthalmology, endoscopy, physical therapy, acupuncture, and nutrition. Plus the services of my oncology social worker, whose help has been invaluable during this entire journey. I can’t thank her enough. My life now is quite different as you can imagine. My mind, body and spirit have all been altered in ways that I didn’t think they would. But somehow through it all I’ve had courage and a sense of humor that I think comes all the way down from my left pinky toe! I remember when I got the initial, and ever so ‘impersonal’ phone call from one of my surgeons letting me know that I had cancer [July 2012]. That was difficult to digest and took a few days and perhaps months to accept. So much so that during one of my visits the doctor said I was in denial of it all because I kept joking about it and laughing it off as if it were nothing. Until I read the post-surgery pathology report, which showed the tumor was about the size of a small lime. If they hadn’t removed it in time, then it would have spread to other organs and I wouldn’t be here talking about it. But my sense of humor, call it what you want, has helped me through it all. Just before the 3rd surgery I felt like a pro. As the doctor [who happens to be the Chief of Plastic Surgery at Brigham & Women’s in Boston], was marking me up where he was going to slice me open, I mimicked how he made a ridiculously funny wrinkled face, took the magic marker from his hand and asked him if he thought he was Picasso. Needless to say, the doctor and nurses all got a good chuckle over it and made the mood that much lighter in the operating room. I quickly became one of his favorite patients. I won’t spend much time going through all the experiences during this excruciating journey, as there are many to recount. But I can say that it’s so unique to each individual cancer patient because of all the variables. These include the stage of the cancer, the rate of speed it has spread, where it has spread within the body, whether the patient needs chemo, radiation, and/or hormone therapy or a combination of all of these; whether the lymph nodes are cancerous and how many of them and where those have spread to in the body; and finally if the cancer gene is present and if it will or has passed on to other family members. Not to mention an entire ‘alphabet soup’ of acronyms for other marker tests they have you go through. For all these variables, and others like age, weight, and prior health, it creates the interminable barrage of doctor visits and trips to the hospital with specialist upon specialist and procedure upon procedure. The hardest of these visits were viewing others at the places where I became a ‘regular patient’ including, The Center for Cancer Care in Winchester Massachusetts, Brigham & Women’s Hospital in Boston, and The Dana Farber Cancer Institute also in Boston, plus a few more places too. There is so much loneliness and sadness and sorrow in these places beyond what I could describe. It was horrific to have to visit and see other cancer patients there, and see myself there! I kept telling myself ‘This too shall pass’. That was really hard!!! The hardest part has really been trying to camouflage my disease and visits and treatments from my youngest son, who was only 9 years old at the time. To have him see me during all the treatments; the visible effects to my body; the excruciating pain where there were days I would scream out loud it hurt so much; the inability to do basic tasks like take him to school or cook a meal or even get out of bed for weeks at a time! For this period in my life, as difficult as it was, I’m forever thankful for the army of people that have helped me and my family. Even folks who I least expected to provide help, readily came to our aid. And as a single parent, this was incredibly valuable beyond words for their kindness, patience and abundant generosity. So even my little one has been a trooper throughout this whole ordeal. And I hope I’ve left a positive role model in strength, courage, integrity and personal dignity that will serve him well in the future. He is the most deserving to accompany me on this vacation trip, should it take place. It’s hard to explain to someone who perhaps has never had surgery much less cancer, the trauma this causes to the body, mind and spirit, that it’s almost implausible. Meanwhile, I’ve become far more compassionate and empathetic for people who are in a similar and/or worse plight, and whose body will never be the same. In either case there is a sense of mourning which has been difficult for me to manage honestly, as I’m a very private person. But through the aid of my social worker, it’s been a success. I have not been on a vacation in over 3 years as I’ve been known to be somewhat of a workaholic, so I could certainly use the respite. At the moment I’ve been laid off from work and find myself unemployed since October of this year. This doesn’t help the mountain of medical bills. But somehow we’re getting through it just fine. We have a roof over our heads, and food on the table and God on our side. The break in work may be a blessing in disguise as it has allowed my body to heal properly. In due time I’ll be back in the ‘rat race’. I’m sure of it. For the details of the stage of my cancer and my treatments, please see the attached signed and sworn statement from my primary surgeon. I can also provide a copy of the original pathology report from the laboratory upon request. I’m happy to send it along if it will help my cause and your consideration. I’m forever grateful to be considered for this special vacation should it be granted. I appreciate the time and expense and other resources your organization donates to similar candidates every year. I’m sure you’ve brought many smiles to past participants. Many heartfelt thanks in advance and God bless.