, Salem, MA

October 16, 2012

‘I never thought it could happen to my Mom’

A breast cancer diagnosis affects everyone

Penny Schuler
The Salem News

MARBLEHEAD — Eleven years, 263 days and I am thankful for every one. On June 14, 2001, I was told, “You have breast cancer.” And yet, I was lucky. I had the best family, friends and medical staff who lifted me up and carried me through the surgeries, the chemotherapy and on to recovery. That’s the simple truth. The deeper truth involves a 16-year-old boy, my son, and an 18-year-old girl, my daughter.

Fear can be paralyzing. For my daughter, it was devastating. The media had made so much about breast cancer and breast cancer deaths that at a young age she had heard enough to scare the hell out of her. It wasn’t just about me, because the media talked constantly about hereditary genes, being Jewish making one predisposed, and so on. For her, it was my death sentence and hers.

After seeing the after-effects of the surgery, she couldn’t get away fast enough. College was her salve and off she went. In retrospect, she says that she was sorry she “ran away,” but I totally understood. In the same circumstances I’m convinced I’d have done the same thing. The harsh reality that followed her departure was unfortunately not missed by her 16-year-old brother.

Todd Schuler

College Application Essay excerpt:

“…I never thought it could happen to my Mom. She was in the fight of her life, with breast cancer. My whole world has been turned upside down. I am constantly thinking about her no matter where I am or what I am doing.

My sister was going off to college and my dad had to work every day. I knew that I had to help my mother with everything.

I wanted to make my mother feel comfortable and ensure that she would have whatever she needed. When she first started to lose her hair I knew she felt out of place. In order for her to feel comfortable I shaved my head so we would be bald together.

It wasn’t easy for me, balancing my mom’s needs with school, sports and friends, but I knew that the most important thing to me was my mom’s health, comfort and happiness.

I say it wasn’t easy for me but, I can’t imagine how it was for my mom, and I still can’t. She has fought in the toughest fight of her life, and won. She is my hero. I know what happened to my mom was a horrible thing, but I believe good things come from every situation, good or bad. Because of this experience, I have changed. I have become closer to my mom and my family. I have changed how I view the world and my life. I don’t want to travel through life without a purpose. I am more

determined than ever and this is all because of my mom’s incredible courage and strength.”

And so it goes.

Penny Schuler is a Marblehead resident and board member of the Sue de Vries Cancer Foundation.