Anne Bruflat

It had been growing steadily for several months -- from the size of a lima bean to a walnut. I had been to three different doctors who all said the same thing.."don't worry about it - it is a sebaceous cyst and is harmless". Music to my ears --- a busy mom tying up loose ends getting ready to move cross country (house on the market, finishing out kids school year, saying goodbye to our home of six years). My husband had already re-located to Iowa (from Northern California) and was adjusting to a new job and looking for a home for us.

At one point I decided enough was enough (it was large enough now to actually see through my clothes after a sweaty yoga class). I told my primary care doctor to take it out. He tried to do this in his office, and determined it was not a sebaceous cyst. He took a biopsy which came back negative for cancer. I was referred to a surgeon who told me, in no uncertain terms, to get it taken out as soon as I got to Iowa and found a new set of doctors. He had no openings until May 2nd, the day after we were moving. The next day I got a phone call saying he had a cancellation and asked if I could come in for the surgery. Needless to say, I was there the next day!

I went to my follow up appointment a week later thinking it would be rather routine. Not so! I was told I had a round cell pleomorphic sarcoma (high grade). In fact, this cancerous tumor had already been seen not only locally, but by the pathologists at Harvard University as well. They confirmed this rare type of cancer.

So here I was, faced with this news the week before we were moving out of state. As if moving to Iowa wasn't enough - I had to deal with cancer too!?! Not once during this time did I say, "Why Me?" What good would it do? I knew I needed to save my strength for the journey to come, and didn't have time to squander it on self-pity. I also didn't want to scare my children, ages 9 and 11 at the time. I am grateful that I went immediately into action. I began researching options, changing my diet, taking herbal cleanses, vitamins, etc. I had always been active and a fairly healthy eater. But...faced with the nuances of our own mortality, the glass can become half empty very quick if we let it. I had a good neighbor/friend/nurse, who took charge and helped me with research and helped me put together an action plan. She got a binder for me to collect all of my documents, phone numbers, scan results, etc. It was priceless --- she was the first of many "Angels" to come along side me on this journey.

As God would have it, I was referred to Dr. Mohammad Milhem in Iowa City. My husband asked him how many patients he had treated with this specific type of cancer. He said about 40. "Ohhhhhh, that's why we moved to Iowa!" he exclaimed. He had taken a better job, but finding Dr. Milhem (who had recently moved to Iowa from Chicago) was confirmation of why we were on this strange path.

First, I needed another surgery to take a wider excision (since only the minimum was taken the first time). This required taking a couple of ribs. All I can say is, "Ouch." A month later, I started an aggressive series of chemo treatments. The type of cancer I had is only seen in kids under 18. In addition to Dr. Mo., I had a pediatric oncologist on my team. The question did cross my mind, "why did I get this type of cancer when only children get it?" Young at heart, I suppose :)

Even though I was incredibly scared of chemotherapy, I felt that my resources had been exhausted and this was the way to treat this cancer. It was difficult, but my family and I were blessed by so many kind people --- it is unexplainable. Family, friends, nurses, people I didn't know, etc. were all so very wonderful. I have always been a "doer" and a "giver." Being able to "receive" is such a gift. I was SO weak that I could do nothing but receive that gift.

Today I am four years cancer free. I am training for a 2.2-mile ocean swim in California, which I am looking forward to. My kids have re-adjusted to a mama with hair again (for a while there I was nicknamed, "bald mama"). I am thankful for so much in my life - especially the gift of humor. This photo was taken during the small window of "good days" between treatments. Our last name is Bruflat so you get the joke on the card!

People ask - "If you had a choice, would you take it all back?" My answer is an unwavering "No." There is something so amazing about going through an experience like this. You find a level of humility that is truly how I believe God wants us to live on a daily basis. I try to live my life as if each day is my last and try my best to do it with a grateful heart.