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U-M CCC - Progress Newsletter Spring 2004 Online

Corrine Callaway, Survivor Diagnosed with breast cancer May, 1999

What went through your mind when you were diagnosed?

I found out the day before my 40th birthday. My very first thought was that they mixed up my test results with someone else’s. There was no way I could have cancer. Cancer didn't run in my family and I did everything right – watched what I ate, took my vitamins, worked out. It had to be some kind of mistake.

Once I realized there was no mistake, I was confused, overwhelmed and afraid. How would the disease impact my independent lifestyle? What were my options, what treatments would be required, how much work would I have to miss, how would this impact my life long term?

For me, knowledge was power. I spent many nights researching my disease. I also connected with other breast cancer survivors who answered my many questions and pointed me in the right direction.

Finally, I learned to accept my diagnosis. My fighting instinct came out and I knew I’d do whatever it took to beat this disease – and I did!

How has cancer changed your life?

For me, cancer was the most life-changing experience I have ever had – and I wouldn’t trade it for anything in the world. That might sound strange, but it restored my faith in this world and in the compassion of others. It taught me about the kindness of strangers and that each of us can make a difference. My sister breast cancer survivors – mostly complete strangers – were my lifeline during treatment, taking the time to call, send cards and packages, answer my questions and calm my fears any time, day or night. These women were inspiring. I knew that when I finished my treatments, I wanted to do the same for other breast cancer patients.

What has the experience taught you?

How to turn a difficult situation into a valuable one– and how sharing my experience can truly help others. Just as I promised myself, since my treatment I’ve been on a mission to help others through this disease. I participate in walks and fundraisers for research, and most importantly, I’m now a trained counselor in the U-M Peer Counseling Program, working with newly-diagnosed women.

Any surprises along the way?

I never expected cancer to have such a “positive” impact on my life. When you’re first diagnosed you think it will be the worst experience of your life. But on my cancer journey I grew in ways I never thought possible. I discovered an inner strength I never knew existed, and learned to appreciate every moment and every person in my life.

What advice would you give to someone who’s just been diagnosed?

Have patience –with yourself and with others. You and everyone around you will experience a huge range of emotions. Cancer is a process – take it one day, one step at a time. Also – take advantage of every resource available – the internet, libraries, cancer support groups, and U-M peer counselors. Sometimes just talking to someone who has been through the experience can give you the bonding, insight and support you need. And make a list of what you’ll do when you finish your treatments – it will give you something to look forward to and remind you to always celebrate life!

How do you define a ‘survivor’?

Someone who realizes that life is a gift and every moment is precious, despite life’s challenges. Survivors wake up each morning knowing that they’ve been given another opportunity - another day – another moment – to live life to the fullest. A survivor has taken life’s most challenging journey and returned a better person for the trip.

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This article is part of the Cancer Center's News Archive, and is listed here for historical purposes.

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