Surviving Breast Cancer

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Lonna Lisa Williams sits inside the cave behind Duden Waterfall in Antalya, Turkey, 2012

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I thought I’d share my own cancer story:

I was nursing my baby when I found a lump in my breast. I told my doctor that I felt achy and tired all the time, and he said it was because I just had a baby and chased after a toddler all day. He thought my breast lump was a clogged milk duct and gave me a mammogram. Nothing strange showed up in the mammogram. But the lump didn’t go away, and I felt like I had the flu all of the time, with low-grade fevers and night sweats.

“Something is wrong,” I told my doctor when I returned, my two children with me. I knew that I was in charge of my body’s health, and I had done research on breast lumps and ways to test them.

“Give me a needle biopsy,” I requested. Jonathan started crying in my arms, and Jessica was running around the examining room.

“Just come back in 6 months,” the impatient doctor responded. “You are young, and it’s probably nothing.”

“No, do it now,” I demanded.

That action saved my life. Two days later my doctor told me I had cancer. Thus began my battle with a rare tumor that sometimes appears in women’s breasts: non-hodgkins lymphoma.

I had to stop nursing abruptly and have surgery. Luckily, I only had a lumpectomy (a lump removed from my breast). I faced four months of chemotherapy, shots, and blood work. I endured strange medical tests like CAT-scans and bone marrow biopsies. My hair fell out. I looked pale, not even eyebrows on my face to soften my vivid blue eyes. My family, friends, and church helped me by watching my children, bringing meals, and babysitting me after my chemotherapy treatments left me nauseated and weak.

I wanted to live for my children and believed that God could help me. I laughed when two boys tossed my blonde wig to each other or people stared when I forgot my wig. I joined a breast cancer support group and wrote two books about my ordeal.

Since those books were published, I have fought other battles like divorce, dependence on prescription medication, and a near-fatal car accident. I had to go overseas to teach English, leaving my children with my ex-husband. After Russia, I lived in Turkey , married a Turkish man, and took a new teaching post in China.  Now I’m trying to write my way back to California to see my children.

Last June, Jonathan graduated from high school. Jessica turned 21. I discovered that cancer was only one battle in my life, 17 years ago, and I’m grateful that the battles–and triumphs–continue.

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Read about my story in my book Crossing the Chemo Room.

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Lonna and her Turkish husband Omer at Duden Waterfall in Turkey

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Lonna with her children Jessica and Jonathan in California, 2010

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