One evening in May 2014, changed my life perspective completely. I was in the shower and felt an extreme pain across my chest. As a natural reaction grabbed the right side of my chest. I felt something then that I knew wasn’t supposed to be there. It felt like a large marble. I knew I had to do something immediately so I called my doctor that evening. The next week or so was filled with biopsies, ultrasounds and people telling me “I was too young to have breast cancer,” but deep down I knew something was incredibly wrong.
On June 2 2014, I got the call around 10:30 pm that I had Stage 1 invasive breast cancer at age 29. With no family history. After genetic testing, I opted for a lumpectomy & after my surgery in July of 2014-my diagnosis changed to Stage 2 due to the size of my tumour. It had grown all the way down to the chest wall.
A few weeks following my breast cancer surgery I went through egg preservation in order to save my fertility (because I have always dreamed of becoming a mother)...so I have 20 eggs waiting for me at UConn Health Center. I then went thru 4 rounds of chemo, lost my hair and had 37 radiation treatments. My biggest push during this time in 2014 was for my life to remain normal, so I found comfort in walking into my first-grade classroom every morning to see my students.
Luckily for me, my hair decided to fall out over Labor Day Weekend of 2014. Which meant my students only saw me 2 days with hair, and following the long weekend would see me without hair. I chose to wear hats & bandanas to work for fear of scaring the 6 & 7-year-olds that I worked with each day. That first day back with no hair, I felt like everyone was staring at me. Students from all over the building were examining my face & head trying to assimilate and figure out what was going on with Miss DiCenzo. I just rocked the bald like a Rockstar under that scarf and that’s exactly what I told my students. A few of them quickly asked where my hair went so I told them it was too hot so I just shoved it underneath my scarf to keep cool. They seemed satisfied with that answer and kept rolling along.
One of my favourite sayings I have always lived by is “Everything happens for a reason.” (and now I actually have a tattoo on my foot of that saying with the pink ribbon) So, I figured I was given breast cancer for a reason. If I am a teacher at heart, I must set out to share my story and teach others about breast cancer. So, that is what I set off to do.
I started blogging early on in my journey. Check out: http://www.perkybits.
I am sure some of you may agree with me, that I couldn’t have asked for a better outlook on life. Cancer has taught me much about how I want to live my life and to cherish those around you. Don’t put off plans, do them now. Get things done. I also believe in paying it forward. Do small things to make someone’s day, even a stranger’s day. You never know what type of battle they might be facing in their life.
I celebrated my 4th “cancerversary” in June and in the week leading up to it, I made sure to do 4 random acts of kindness.
Anyways-nothing makes me feel more alive than helping others. I feel it is our greatest gift we can do as cancer survivors but to help others. Help spread the love and thoughtfulness we received from others when we endured some hard times, onto someone else. Someone who least expects it! It helps me heal. Makes me feel good.
I guess in a way, I try to use that every day in my kindergarten classroom. I try to show them that the best way to help others is to be kind, show you care and show them that they are loved. I have never felt more love than those 6 months I went through treatment. People came out of the woodworks-all for me. I was surprised each day with cards in the mail, small presents, or phone calls from people whom I hadn’t spoken to in years. Some who I barely knew. It humbled me to my core and I felt that I could only do the same back for someone someday. I knew I didn’t deserve the kindness….somewhere there was someone else that had things way worse than I ever did during my six months of treatment…so that’s what I do now.
Whenever I can, I speak at breast cancer events or on the local TV stations in Connecticut, USA. I feel in a way it’s sharing my message and spreading my love for life and love for teaching around. I hope I spark something in someone reading this to make them feel the same way I did when those friends and family reached out to me. I want you to feel alive..because guess what we are?! There’s no greater time to feel blessed and thankful than right now. I guess I can say this because even though I’ve endured all the cancer treatment, I was able to get pregnant on my own. I am now halfway through a healthy pregnancy expecting a baby boy due in April 2019.
Thank you cancer, you taught me more than I could’ve ever found out in my short 34 years. You’ve taught me to love deeper, thank people more often, live fully, laugh with your whole heart, and help others in need.
Instagram - @claireperkybits