HOW I HELD MY BUSINESS TOGETHER WHILE FIGHTING BREAST CANCER: A Survivor Motivational Story
Breast cancer: the two most feared words in a woman’s life. We hear it all the time. We know women who have gone through it, and we read about it everywhere. One out of eight women will get breast cancer. I was one of them.
My name is Lee Levy, and I am 49 years old. I am a wife, a mom, and a business owner. I run a website design business since 2006, and I love what I do. When I am not designing websites, I am reading, taking Zumba and Bellydance classes, or creating.
In January of 2019, I went for my routine mammogram, as I do since I turned forty. I was always in the best health until that time. That day, the nurse said that they saw “something.” Not exactly the words you want to hear. The nurse must have sensed my horror because she said, “don’t panic yet. It could be anything. We will take a 3D mammogram to be sure.” My HMO didn’t cover that, so I waited for approval.
On January 15th, the 3D mammogram revealed a small “mass.” I have dense breast tissues, so they stated only a biopsy would confirm the diagnosis.
On January 20th, they performed the biopsy: the longest hour of my life. I laid there on that cold table while they pulled tissue samples out of me. After another hour in the waiting room, the most cold-hearted doctor I have ever met said, “I don’t have good news. You have breast cancer.” After a quick, “I’m sorry,” she left the room. The nurse showed more compassion, but I don’t even remember what she told me after the shock.
I remember walking to my car and sitting there for an hour crying. I could not even reach my husband as he was out of the country and had terrible reception. It took two days to get the news to him. Those days are foggy. I cried a lot and gently broke the news to my kids, close friends, and other family members. I didn’t know if I was going to live or die. Until I saw my oncologist, I felt like I aged 20 years from worrying. It’s hard to pretend that everything is alright, run a business, and take care of a family.
The oncologist experience was another adventure in itself. It took three doctors to get it right.
Oncologist # 1
One week later, I went to the first visit with the oncologist the insurance company referred me to. This doctor was plain awful. No bedside manner, barely answered questions, and only with a short yes or no. My husband said, “there is no way you are going to spend the next year putting your life in THIS doctor’s hands.”
Oncologist # 2
An excellent friend of mine referred me to a top-of-the-line Beverly Hills doctor who had write-ups in magazines worldwide. Of course, she was not on my HMO plan. Her consult price was $1000. My husband said, “Let’s just do it for the sake of the second opinion.” But all she did was look at the previous paperwork and said: “Yes, I AGREE with his diagnosis and procedure.” WOW, and for that, I paid $1000. I looked at my husband and said, “Strike two- NEXT! What is wrong with these doctors?”
Oncologist # 3
I struck gold, but only after I did my own research. I googled doctors, checked their ratings, and made sure they were on my insurance plan. I found a 5-star doctor who happened to be 60 miles from my home. I thought it was worth it. We drove out for a consult, and this doctor was AMAZING, the complete opposite of what I had experienced. He spent 45 minutes explaining my situation as each cancer diagnosis is different. He recommended a lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation for my stage-two aggressive cancer—the whole 9 yards.
In other words, for the next eight months, I would pretty much be out of commission. But the doctor’s first words were, “The good news is you are only a stage 2, and we caught it on time. You are going to be ok!”. I started crying from relief. After two weeks of not knowing, I finally understood what I was in for. He explained everything in detail. I went home knowing what stage I was, that I would be ok, and what I needed to do.
While I prepped for the lumpectomy, I went through a vast range of emotions. I cried a lot thinking, “Why Me?” and “What did I do to deserve this?”. I consider myself a strong person who can get through anything, but I was not in a good place. I worried about chemo because of the horror stories and side effects. Please, do NOT Google anything about this unless you want to go into class-A depression. My biggest concern was, “how am I going to be able to run my business knowing I will have many tough days ahead of me?”.
It was time to slow down. I informed my clients of my situation. I told them I would be working through the good and the bad, but not respond sometimes. The response was so overwhelming I almost cried. My loyal clients told me they would be patient and wished me the best of luck. I contacted a backup for my two biggest clients to help me out if I could not perform. They appreciated that I took the initiative. Some of them even scheduled around my time.
A month later, I had the lumpectomy—lots of pain, black and blue marks, and lots of drugs for two weeks. My arm was also in pain because they removed a lymph node, and I could barely keep my eyes or hands on the laptop.
I stayed pretty much off of social media because I couldn’t be that person to air out my story and ask for prayers or pity. I couldn’t handle it. Very few people knew, and I wanted to keep it that way.
Chemo # 1
After I healed, I spent the next six months in chemotherapy. It was the scariest part. After hearing stories about side effects, it messes your mind. The first chemo lasted six hours. They poured bags of clear liquid into my body, the stuff some call the miracle and others call the poison. Many choose the holistic healing path and criticize these healing methods. I decided what was best for me and not gamble with my life.
The first two days after the chemo, I felt normal. On days 3-10, I felt like in a coma. I was weak, dizzy, tired all the time, and could not get out of bed. I lost some feeling in my fingers and toes (a neuropathy), which was scary. Also, I had no appetite. Even when I forced myself to eat, food tasted like metal. Everything, from chocolate to rice, to a steak, tasted like I was eating my fork. I was thinking, “At least, I will lose some weight from this.” Little did I know that one of the side effects of the medication I was taking was weight gain. Way to go, not eating AND gaining weight.
Ten days later, my hair started falling out. I had a hard time dealing with that. I couldn’t bring myself to even look in the mirror because it was so scary. Yes, women go and get wigs, which helps you feel better outside, but inside I was still a mess.
Chemo # 2
By the second chemo, I knew I had a few good days and a week of bad days, so I tried to schedule work on my good days. It wasn’t easy. The worst part was sitting in that room, hooked up to a device, watching 8-9 other people of all ages, all stages of cancer. Some of them were really fighting for their lives. It was so depressing.
I still had six more chemo sessions to go. Something snapped inside my head, and I said to myself, “I am NOT going to let this get me down anymore.” I knew right then that was the time to start focusing on my business full force. I knew that would keep me busy and happy. I love being a business owner, I love what I do, and I love my clients.
Chemo # 3
I arrived with quite a few bags. Besides my usual meds and my blanket, I brought my laptop and a little black book. People looked at me like I was crazy. You’d be surprised how many thoughts and notes you can do when you are stuck in the same chair for so many hours.
I reflected on my business over the past few years, the good and the bad. I reflected on what worked and what didn’t. I made lists of things I wanted to start doing, stop doing, or change and make better.
I even sat in online networking groups and chatted and with other entrepreneurs. I have always believed you can learn from others, and they can learn from you. I filled up the black book quickly. For the first time in months, I felt excited and had many business goals to look forward to. I was also working on some of my clients’ websites while in chemo.
The funniest thing happened. A gentleman sitting next to me was peeking at what I was doing, and when I looked up, he asked me if I was building websites. When I said YES, he said his sister was looking for a web designer. He said he was so impressed by my WORKING while dealing with breast cancer that he HAD to give her my number. That made me laugh.
Chemo # 4-8
Each chemo got worse and worse with my side effects. I could not work much at all. By chemo #8, I had gained even more side effects, so I just gave into them and stayed in bed for the last few weeks.
Once I finished chemo, my oncologist gave me instructions to rest until my strength came back. I got a LOT of sleep in the last month and wasn’t able to function too much. I tried to get on my phone and laptop and do whatever I could to keep my business going.
Radiation was a cakewalk compared to chemo: a bit of tiredness and chemo’s side effects. I began working almost 5 hours a day. A few weeks later, my taste buds returned.
Little by little, almost everything went back to normal.
Three months later, I was back to work full time.
My clients were happy to have me back, and I was so grateful to feel normal again. I got out my little black book and began going through all my notes. I could tell I wasn’t thinking clearly, but I started implementing many of those ideas right away. I had so many plans to take my business and expand into new areas and go full force on specific tasks. One by one, and even today, I am plowing through them, scratching them off as I go. I sometimes wonder if I would have come up with these ideas if not for hours and hours of sitting in the chemo room.
I promised myself I would make it my mission to spread awareness about the importance of having REGULAR mammograms.
Ladies, you MUST make sure you get regular checkups. I meet so many women who tell me they have never done it because they are scared. It is CRUCIAL to stay on top of your health. If I had waited, my outcome could have been much worse. If it is caught in time, it is totally treatable! I was one of the lucky ones.
It takes a horrible thing like this to realize what is essential in life. Now, I try to focus on what is vital in life because sometimes, you don’t get that second chance.