Oatsie Charles, 94
Legendary Washington, DC hostess and Newport, RI socialite
I had a radical mastectomy when I was just 36. I was divorced and the mother of a young daughter. It was 1956, and in those days, you didn't say you had cancer. It was like saying you had syphilis.
When I found my lump, I never thought of getting a second opinion. I didn't even know where to go for one. So I opted to have surgery and went to Dr. John Lyons, who performed my surgery at the old Emergency Hospital here in Washington. He removed the lump but had found that the cancer had spread to the breast area and continued to do a radical mastectomy. I knew I was having this surgery to remove something--I just didn't know how much. But I had total confidence in my doctors and if they said it had to be done, it had to be done.
I woke up 2 days after surgery and my room was filled with daffodils. I remember feeling a presence behind me who told me to just be calm. I also remember not wanting to feel sorry for myself--that if all I thought I had to offer someone in life were my 2 droopy boobs, I had better knock off that kind of thinking right away. One day, a nurse stood me up in front of the mirror and said, "No one is ever going to look at you again". So I told her, "Don't count on it".
I used to think about my cancer occasionally, especially in the first few years after the surgery. But then I told myself there is too much in life that goes on. Too many exciting people to meet. I had to just get on with it. My friends were all very supportive. I was always very open with people about my cancer, and would talk about it with anyone who asked. I also never made a big deal about it with my daughter Victoria. I would walk around the house naked and obviously my daughter saw that my body was different, but that it was perfectly okay.
My advice to women battling breast cancer today is to keep active and keep moving. You have to accept that it has happened, and then treat it like it's one more thing in life to deal with -- and hope to God that it doesn't come back. But don't become too emotionally transfixed by it. It's disagreeable, but not difficult. I don't mean to sound cavalier, but its not the end of the world. Make up your mind to accept it, hold your head up high and your stomach in, and go on with life. - Written by Oatsie Charles
Oatsie tells such a moving and empowering story. She is such a strong woman and I have been so lucky to know her. Are you a survivor like Oatise? Do you have a story to tell? We want to hear it! Comment below or email your story here firstname.lastname@example.org.