"Turns out, I married Superman," Lynda Altman says.
Indeed, Altman needed a hero. She found one in her husband, Howard.
Diagnosed in September 2011 with breast cancer, the 50-year-old Arkansas mom of four is now in treatment for stage 1 invasive ductal carcinoma, an aggressive case that warranted chemotherapy.
For her, cancer meant a undergoing a double mastectomy and reconstruction, breaking the news to her kids, coping with hair loss and second-guessing her doctors. (She writes about her cancer experiences in a diary for Yahoo! Shine.)
"Treatment for breast cancer is awful," she writes in a first-person account.
But Howard, whom she calls her best friend, soul mate and a man of steel, saw her through.
"Over the course of this year, my husband has been a rock for me. I could not have survived this ordeal without him," Altman says.
October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Yahoo News asked women who had breast cancer or who are in treatment to write about the people in their lives who stood by them and cared for them.
In their own words, here are excerpts from some of their stories:
By Lynda Altman, 50, Centerton, Ark.
One night in particular stands out for me. The plan was that after my mastectomy, Howard would go home to be with the kids on the second night I was in the hospital. The Cancer Treatment Center of America in Tulsa, Okla., is two hours away from my home. Usually, I heal quickly so I did not think Howard going home would be a problem. I was not feeling great, and the emotional toll of losing a breast was more than I expected. If I hadn't been so doped up on morphine, I probably would have cried for the first two days without stopping.
I asked Howard to stay for the second night, and he did. Good thing I had him there. It was a very difficult night for me. Between the monitor alarms constantly going off, ineffective pain management, and marginally competent hospital staff, that second night could not have been more miserable. Howard stayed with me. There was a pull-out chair for him to sleep in or he had the option of going back to our room at the cancer center. Instead, he moved a recliner next to the bed and held my hand all night. Words cannot describe how much this meant to me. He touched my very soul by being there.
Chemo is done, and there is little hope I will return to a premenopausal state. Now, as a couple, we have to deal with the challenges of cancer and menopause. This includes the usual hot flashes, night sweats and sexual issues. Howard is understanding and patient. I could not ask for a better husband.
By Elizabeth Danu, 50, San Mateo, Calif.
Before I had breast cancer, I was a massage therapist. One day, when I went to greet a client, Flo, for her regular session, she told me she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. She would receive aggressive treatment, and she additionally chose to get massage once a week for the duration of her treatments. I was there through it all. She got through it and got back to her life, and I saw her less frequently.
The day I got the dreaded call from the radiologist confirming that I had cancer, I ran into Flo. We were driving side by side on El Camino Real, a busy thoroughfare in San Mateo, of all places.
I rolled down the window and shouted the bad news.
She shouted back, "Call me! I'm your buddy!"
She was. I had inflammatory breast cancer. My treatment was aggressive. I started dose-dense chemotherapy on March 3, 2007, 10 days after my ultrasound clued in my radiologist that I "very probably" had cancer. I had eight infusions, two weeks apart. I had all the same drugs Flo had received, plus Herceptin. She took me to my appointments. She brought me Jamba Juice on chemo days and let my call her up and cry. She knew what to say when I told her my veins felt like they were full of Drano. She reassured me that the rotten way I felt was normal, and told me how long it would last and what would help me.
Flo's partner in crime was my mom, Anne. They conferred together on the phone, about everything from my prognosis (scary, but they didn't tell me) to my boyfriend (wouldn't last; it didn't.). Mom was in Seattle. She relied on Flo to know how I was doing, and when Mom came to help when I had surgery, she and Flo were already fast friends.
Flo and I drifted back into our own very different lives after the journey, as she told me we would. We drop each other a line every so often. My gratitude to her is beyond words. I couldn't have done it without her.
By Rachel Brooks, 39, Chicago
I met Jennifer just before I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was referred to her for depression and even though I only knew her over the course of a year through our therapy sessions, she played an important role during one of the most difficult times in my life. Jennifer was warm and caring and I immediately felt at ease around her. I could talk to her about anything, things I didn't tell family or friends.
Battling breast cancer should have been my foremost concern at the time, but I was also dealing with the dissolution of a 10-year relationship and felt little self-worth. What Jennifer did for me was allow me to talk about things other than cancer, daily radiation sessions, or treatment side effects like hot flashes and other menopausal symptoms.
Talking to her about everything but breast cancer was a welcome distraction. Otherwise, I might have worried too much about all the "what ifs," such as "what if I don't make it?" or "what if I can't have kids?" Contemplating the possible outcomes of having breast cancer can be overwhelming. So even though the other non-cancer things I was worried about were probably trivial in comparison, Jennifer never made me feel that way. She just listened.
It's been 10 years since I had breast cancer or last spoke to Jennifer. After finishing treatment I left San Diego to return to Chicago. I didn't keep in touch with her, but before I left she gave me a charming vintage-style antiqued-brass necklace adorned with petite pearl beads and a dainty floral heart-shaped charm. I think it was her way of showing that she genuinely cared and wished good things for me because she knew we wouldn't see each other again. That's all I have of our time together—no photos, emails or texts—just the necklace.
By Jerrifaye Neighbours, 37, Efland, N.C.
It was Feb. 19, 2007, when I was told I had breast cancer.
I was just 32, with two children, Adam, 4, and Kaitlyn, 14, and a marriage that was close to ending after 15 years.
We got the call on a Monday afternoon. My husband, Kenny, answered. We were told it was stage II intraductal carcinoma. I was in complete shock. My husband held me and let me cry. Starting that day, our relationship changed for the better. I always joked that cancer saved my marriage. But, in all reality, it did.
That March, I started chemotherapy. I would go every other week over an 18-week period, nine total rounds. A lot of those doctor's appointments, especially chemo days, were very long days and if he weren't there to keep me company I would've gone insane. We laughed, we talked, we spent a lot of time together, and got to know each other again. We learned to love again because you never know when tragedy can strike. And if he weren't there, I don't know who would've gone to get me french fries. He really was my rock.
Today, we have been married almost 19 years and are happier than we've ever been. I know that sounds cliché, but it's the truth. We let the little things go now and just love each other. It's not always sunshine and lollipops. But we're together, and we're living and loving every day.
No one should go through this difficult, terrible journey on her own; it's just too much for one person. I really like the term co-survivor because that is what you are doing: You are surviving this together.
By Harriet Steinberg, 86, Los Angeles
It's been two decades since my breast cancer diagnosis. Through it all, my husband was my companion: during my surgery, treatments and after.
Howard and I have known each other for 45 years after we met on a blind date and fell in love the first day we met.
When I discovered I had breast cancer in my 60s, I considered myself lucky. Why? Because I discovered it when it was in the very first stage. I knew it was in the first stage because when I went in for my annual mammogram, there were no signs of cancer.
Two months later, I felt a small lump in my left breast, which I had never felt before. To make certain that my imagination wasn't getting the best of me, I asked my husband to feel my breast. When he told me that he did feel a lump, I became upset. He re-assured me that it was probably nothing to worry about. It made me feel a little better.
Even though the pain from the operation was not too severe, he insisted on making dinner for the next three days after he brought me home from the hospital. Not only did he make the dinner, but when I told him that I would clean up, he insisted: "No, no. You go watch television. "
After he cleaned up, he held my hand, and whispered in my ear, "You're my only."
- Disease & Medical Conditions
- breast cancer
- inflammatory breast cancer