SAN ANTONIO – It's hard to believe this month marks 15 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer. 15 years. 15 years. I can't wrap my head around it! It seems like just yesterday I was sitting in my kitchen waiting for the phone call with the results of my biopsy (which was done on a Friday the 13th appropriately enough!)
I knew what the doctor was going to say. I knew it was cancer. I could tell by the reaction to the mammogram, the reaction to the sonogram, and the fact that they wanted to do a biopsy right away. When the doctor did call, first thing that Monday morning, she said "It's not what we had hoped, it's cancer." Thus began a whirlwind journey that would impact me and my family for the rest of our lives. It altered the path I was on in this life and changed so much about me. I was 35 at the time of the diagnosis, with a 2-year-old daughter at home. The "plan" was to have another child. That was not God's plan. The reality was Nicole would be an only child. I do feel guilty about that at times, because I love my sister and brother so much, I wish I could give her the same experiences and relationships. She does, however, have incredible cousins who she is extremely close to, and friends who love her like family. And thank God, she has me, her mom!
Fifteen years ago, cancer was still very taboo. Women didn't walk around bald and were very private about their battles and struggles. I felt compelled by God to use my public platform in TV to share my cancer journey. I shared it all. I decided if I was going public, I needed to show every aspect, the ugly and bad as well as the triumphs and victories. I never could have imagined that letting the public in on my experiences would have such an impact on so many women. It also had an enormous impact on me. Cameras captured everything from my surgery to chemo, hair loss to radiation. I even anchored one show without my wig to bring awareness to the reality of the fight. When I made the decision to anchor bald I wasn't sure if the public would embrace it or make fun of it. But one of the thousands of emails I received summed up why I made the right decision.
"Leslie, I am battling breast cancer too. I am ashamed of being bald. I won't even walk around my own home without my wig on, because I don't want to see myself that way. Tonight I watched you anchor an entire newscast without hair. You are beautiful. I took off my wig and walked to my mailbox holding my bald head high! Thank you for representing me tonight, and giving me courage to continue my own battle."
Wow! What a blessing! I had an entire city praying for me, lifting me up and giving me a reason to get out of bed on those days chemo had me sick to my stomach, pasty white and weak. Every day I found strength to go to work, because it kept my life somewhat normal and I knew there were viewers depending on me.
The first few years after being diagnosed with cancer, there were those demons of fear that we all fight. You twinge at every lump and bump you feel. But as time goes on, it gets a little easier. Five years, 10 years, now 15 years, cancer is no longer the focus. But facing cancer makes you appreciate the moments, not just the years. Cancer makes you realize you are mortal. So even if you survive the cancer, you always remember that time is precious and no one is guaranteed more than this very moment in life. If we become absorbed with the fear and the bad we forget to live and miss out on the time we do have here on earth.
Don't get me wrong, I am very grateful for the years God has given me! I was able to watch Tony retire from the Air Force and watch my daughter grow into a beautiful, smart, involved young woman. I have watched her handle her own conflicts and crisis of those middle and teen years with grace and courage. This year she will graduate from high school! I cry just thinking about it. I am so proud of her, and so grateful to be here to witness all of those special moments in her life.
Some things haven't changed! I still anchor the news at KSAT and love it so much. KSAT is family, too, and such a big part of my life. I still get letters and emails every week from women who are newly diagnosed with breast cancer. Women write me looking for a little encouragement and advice. I often hear from women who say as they start their battle, seeing me on the news, healthy and happy, 15 years after my diagnosis gives them strength and hope.
I do have "battle scars" and was forced into surgical menopause (oh fun!), and I still have good and bad days. I keep pics of me bald around the house and office to remind me of what's important when I feel down. It reminds me that it could be much worse! It also helps me remember on those humid South Texas days, any hair day is a good hair day!
I remain very active in the community trying to help raise awareness and money to fight breast cancer. From WINGS, to Komen, to the CTRC and ABCF, I do what I can to give back to this amazing community that embraced and blessed me so richly.
Cancer is scary. Cancer is horrible. Cancer makes you angry. Cancer makes you cry. Cancer makes you feel sorry for yourself. Cancer makes you strong. Cancer makes you appreciate life. Cancer makes you a fighter. Cancer teaches you to live every day to the fullest. I had cancer, and I’m proud to wear the badge of a survivor for 15 years. God willing, I will wear it for another 15!