“After cancer, I realized that the things that used to get me down didn’t matter anymore… And they don’t seem to happen to me anymore, either.” ~ Lynne Rush
It was so out of character for this athletic, strong woman—a former middle school basketball, soccer, and softball coach—to fall. And yet, she did, smacking her left side and breast onto the ground. Oh well, she thought, the soreness would pass. It’s a bruise.
But it didn’t, and this woman, who was a physically tough person who knew her body well, also knew that something was the matter. Her left breast should no longer be painful weeks after a fall. Her doctor sent her in for a mammogram. Just to see.
She told the physician’s assistant that her aunt, cousin, grandmother, and older sister had had breast cancer, and that she, herself, had yearly mammograms. Just to see what was going on. The P.A. concluded that, given Lynne’s history, she should have ultrasounds of both breasts performed. The doctors spotted an area that concerned them.
And in February 2014, Lynne Rush was diagnosed with HER-positive stage 2 breast cancer, which had not appeared in any of her mammograms. But it was cancer of the right breast. Her left breast—the tender one—was perfectly fine. It was just bruised.
“I was shocked by the diagnosis,” says Lynne, running her hands through her short brown hair. “But I knew it was coming when someone called me at work, and asked if I could come back before the end of the day to review the biopsy results.”
She took a three-month leave from her job as a Health and Phys. Ed. teacher in a Phillipsburg, NJ, middle school to treat her cancer.
Lynne had a lumpectomy, and waited four weeks for the incision to heal before beginning radiation.
She glances at her partner, Angella Carney. “Everything that could’ve gone right for me in my breast cancer journey did go right. I had a cancer that didn’t show up in any mammograms, but a fall sent me to the doctor. Then I had a lumpectomy which healed easily. And then, I was lucky enough to qualify for SAVI, a radiation treatment which minimizes the treatment time and side effects.” At the end of five days, when Lynne’s treatment was over, she was tired, but that was it. She had no other side effects.
She remained home for a few more weeks, recuperating, and basking in the kindness of her family, friends, peers, and students. “Everyone was amazing. My family and close friends were with me every step of the way. My co-workers made dinners, sent cards, and emails. My students and ex-players sent flowers, fruits baskets, and hand-written cards. I was overwhelmed with the incredible love and support,” she says with wonderment.
Lynne began the last part of her journey, but the path roughened: five years of Tamoxifin. It was no longer a walk in the park.
“I’ve gained 35 pounds, which is a lot on a 5’4 frame. My joints ache. I have no energy or stamina. It’s grueling. I used to do yard work all day long, play sports, go on walks, and hikes. I could just go and go. Now, I have to rest. Angella has to help with many of the more physical parts of owning a home. It’s frustrating to not do what I used to be able to do,” Lynne glances at her partner.
The medication, which can affect joints, has exacerbated upper and lower back pain, which Lynne now controls with steroids and blockers.
“Last summer, my doctor let me get off the medication for three weeks. I felt better. But, as he says, it’s saving my life. But, as I say, it’s also diminishing it.” Lynne shifts in her seat.
“I have two more years of Tamoxifin, and one more year until I retire from teaching. Then I will focus on myself, and get my life back.” She adjusts the sleeves of her sweatshirt.
“Another very hard part was that my breast surgeon retired. I was devastated. I felt that no one knew me better than he did, and he was irreplaceable. It’s hard to adjust to someone new.” Lynne turns toward Angella, who nods in agreement. “Fortunately, I found another cancer team that I can trust with my ongoing treatment.
“Angella has been my strength, my lifeline, my blessing.” Lynne clasps her hands together. They met shortly before Lynne was diagnosed with cancer. This, of course, tested the new relationship. “The way she took care of me,” muses Lynne, “showed me that she was a person I wanted to be with.”
She settles back in her chair, recollecting. There was a time when she felt as if she were running from doctor to doctor, test to test, fighting at every moment. “You want to put it behind you, and lead your life, but it takes up so much time. Doctors, tests, labs, waiting. It’s always there, even when it’s not,” she says.
In the intervening three years, however, she’s been able to reflect on the physical and emotional aspects of having cancer.
And, instinctively, she knew she was ready for the next step: when Angella showed her a brochure from the Cancer Support Community and told her that she’d signed them both up for yoga and Healthy Cooking, Lynne was ready to go.
The classes are more than just about yoga and cooking. “A group of people,” notes Angella, an investment banker, “meets, as if for a party. They’re laughing and joking, but in the meantime, they understand each other, and they’re talking about doctors and sharing information. There is a deep bond, and I love that I am able to support these people who are going through so much.”
Lynne stands, and peers out the window. “Cancer puts your whole life in perspective. One of my students sat next to me and told me she was having a bad day. I told her that I used to think I was having miserable days, too. After cancer, I realized that the things that used to get me down didn’t anymore.
“And they don’t seem to happen to me anymore, either. Cancer changes you—sometimes for the better.”
Lynne Rush participates in Yoga and Healthy Cooking.