There are a few phrases that you never want to hear. One of them is “You have cancer.”

On March 21st of this year, I dutifully went for my annual mammogram. I wasn’t expecting anything, because I do routine self-exams and had not felt anything. I am pretty diligent as I had a scare with a benign cyst about ten years ago.

Five days later, I was back at the clinic having a second more rigorous mammogram. About an hour later, the doctor informed me that I had two potential issues. The first was a small lump in my left breast. The second was extensive calcification also in my left breast. With these two findings, they were recommending two different types of biopsies for possible breast cancer.

I was tempted to do a lot of research but decided not to scare myself silly. The lump was pretty easy to understand. We hear about women finding lumps routinely. The calcification wasn’t something I had heard of before. A quick web search told me that calcifications are often benign but can be an early sign of cancer.

Positivity is a term frequently used to describe me. And that was my exact attitude at that moment. I wasn’t going to overreact or start worrying over the second mammogram. I had been down this road before with a cyst. Everything was going to be fine. Besides, I had three quilts to finish before May 1st for H + H. I promised to get these quilts done for my fabric partners and I wasn’t going to let them down. More importantly, getting these done kept me from fixating on something I had no control over. Sometimes, that distraction is everything.

Two weeks after the second mammogram, I was at the hospital getting two biopsies on the same day. The first was an ultrasound biopsy for the lump. The second was a stereotactic biopsy for the calcification. During both biopsies, a small clip or marker was inserted so they could pinpoint the area again, if needed. I am blessed because my husband went with me (well as far as they would let him). When they were done, I was sore and a bit scared. There was nothing more for me to do but wait for the results… They told me it would be about five days. What did I do with that time? I worked on quilt designs and my show quilts. I did anything I could to NOT think about those results.

Six days later, on a Sunday night, I received the first test result. The lump was benign fatty tissue. This is probably one of the few times I was glad for fat tissue! My family rejoiced and were so glad. I was hesitant. Why did I only have one test result? What about the other one??

The next day – April 15th – the day dreaded for taxes, I got a call from my doctor first thing in the morning. She wanted to give me the results of my second biopsy. All of my instincts told me this was not a good thing. She informed me that I had BREAST CANCER. Those calcifications were malignant. I had Ductile Carcinoma In Situ (DCIS).

The next steps were a bit of a blur. I met with a surgeon, an oncologist, and a geneticist. Because my grandmother had breast cancer, it was advised that I determine if there was a genetic factor. Then, I needed an MRI to determine where the cancer was and if it had made it to my lymph nodes. All of this was to inform the doctors about what my best options for treatment and survival were. During these weeks of waiting, I lost myself again in my quilting. It was something I could control at a time when everything else was out of my control.

As I waited for those results, my quilt guild, colleagues, neighbors, friends, and family were a constant source of support. They kept me focused on what was important. And they picked up some of my slack in my business. Yes – this is why there was a bit of silence on my end in April and May.

Here comes that positivity factor again. They emphasized that every day after my diagnosis, I was considered a cancer survivor. I was lucky. It was caught early. It had not become invasive. It was Stage 0. It was also hormone positive, which meant I had treatment options. My grandmother survived for 30 years after her diagnosis of breast cancer and lived to be ninety. The odds were on my side. The unfortunate part, even though it was caught early, it was a large volume.

I decided to have breast conserving surgery (also known as a partial mastectomy or lumpectomy). Since I had all the positive factors on my side, I figured they could always take more if needed. This wasn’t an arbitrary decision. The doctor informed me that there was a 10% chance of recurrence with either a lumpectomy or a mastectomy.

On the day of surgery, May 14th, I had another visit with my friendly radiologists. Using ultrasound, they locate a clip and insert a wire near it so that the surgeon could locate the tissue precisely. With DCIS, there isn’t a “lump” they can feel. It is a mass of tissue that has “strings” of affected ducts running through it. Once the wire is inserted, they perform another mammogram to make sure the wire is in exactly the right place. Then, I was off to the operating room. After surgery, the tissue was sent to pathology to ensure they “got it all.”

I went home the same day and rested. It would be a few days before the pathology report would be available. Guess what I did? I worked on quilt designs (I couldn’t move quite well enough to tackle cutting or piecing yet). But, quilting again was distracting me. And I was so grateful.

Unfortunately, the margins (area near the edges of the removed tissue) were not as clean as needed. That meant I needed a second surgery to remove more tissue. Exactly one week after the first surgery, I was back in the operating room to go through it all again. I wasn’t as nervous this time as I knew what to expect.

Two days later, I received test results that brought tears of joy to my eyes. I was cancer-free. The surgeon had removed all of the tissue!!

Now, I am recovering from the surgery and still have a few days before I can lift anything heavier than a gallon of milk… But that hasn’t kept me from my sewing machine. I have been working on small projects and writing patterns.

My next steps are radiation therapy and hormone therapy to prevent the cancer from recurring. But that won’t start for a few weeks yet. In the meantime, I will be catching up on my pattern writing and making beautiful things.

I can’t thank my guild, colleagues, friends, neighbors, and family for their unwavering support during this time. I am truly blessed to have such a wonderful network.

So why am I sharing all of these details with you?

One in eight women will develop breast cancer. One in five of those will be DCIS. The only way to find DCIS is to have a mammogram. I never would have known I had cancer without it. So, I strongly encourage each and every one of you to have your mammograms regularly. Schedule an appointment with a friend or sister to make a day of it. But DO it.

My quilt community provided a support network that helped me to cope with my diagnosis. I was so glad to have that group of people around me. If you have ever wondered about the value of a guild or membership, let me tell you that it is worth it if you ever have to go through a trauma like this.

Quilting projects provided a wonderful therapy for me while I waited for results, waited for appointments, waited for surgery. It provided a positive outlet, something I could control when everything else was out of my control. It helped me to stay positive and productive.

I hope that none of my readers ever has to go through this. But if you do, I hope that quilting provides the grounding, support and uplift that it gave me.

I would love to hear your story. How has quilting helped you cope?