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Disease strengthens relationship bonds

TINKER AIR FORCE BASE, Okla. -- Editor's note: October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. During this time it is important to spread the message that "early detection is the key." But, once that detection happens, what then? For this survivor, the disease and her fight to recover from it brought her closer to her family and helped her form new relationships with others battling the same thing.

Cancer patients are not the only ones affected by the disease. Understandably, my family was concerned while I was being treated and called frequently to check on me. My mother called three times a day -- every day for about eight months. She lives only about 20 miles away and even on the days she stopped by, I still got all three calls.

I spent more time with my daughter, niece and nephew than I had in years. As we talked, the chemo brain would steal a word or two and our conversations would turn into games of charades. Friends brought me flowers and brownies and my sisters would fix my favorite foods. Did I mention that chemo therapy affects your taste buds? The food smelled great, but for the most part I couldn't taste it.

Even our pets changed their behaviors. Sofi, our 45-pound puppy, decided that she needed to lead me through the house every time I stood up. It didn't matter that she didn't know where I was going. And, in her anxiety to make sure I got there safely, she would spin between my legs as we walked, forcing me to slow down and hold onto the wall. Our cat took to sleeping on my chest, soothing me to sleep as she purred.

Chemo and radiation buddies became new friends. We would share tumor humor and compare side effects and ways to treat them. While our families and other friends were empathetic to our pain, it's difficult to understand unless you go through it yourself.

While I would never wish cancer on anyone, in a way it was a blessing. Dealing with the disease reinforced my relationships with my family and showed me who my true friends are.

I also learned that laughter really is the best medicine. With each visit and phone call, I would put on a brave face so they wouldn't worry so much. I found that being positive and laughing at the side effect of the day would also make me feel better.