In 2011, there were more than 2.6 million breast cancer survivors in the US. And because October is breast cancer awareness month, I wanted to close it out by featuring Lenore Waterman in our RMRT interview. I’ve had the pleasure of meeting and getting to know Lenore because she is the sister of my good friend Te Espi (who was our very first RMRT interviewee). To say it was an honor to chat with her on a more personal level would be an understatement. This beautiful woman of God and single mother of three is truly an inspiration. In this interview, she opens up to me about her personal fight with breast cancer, which is a disease that affects 1 in 8 women in the United States. It’s a disease so prevalent today that I’m not sure I know anyone who hasn’t been effected by it either directly or indirectly, or knows someone else who hasn’t been.
So grab a snack, prop your feet up, grab a tissue and check out what Lenore had to say.
LENORE: I am a retiree of the United States Air Force, one of my many accomplishments that I hold dear to my heart. I did 22 years with 7 trips to Iraq and Afghanistan collectively. I, of course, am the mother of three beauuuutiful daughters who are all different in their own right, and I love them to be that way. I feel like…I kinda tell people that they are like girl scout cookies. You look forward to girl scout cookies and everybody has their favorites. They are all different flavors, but they’re all girl scout cookies, so those are my girls, you know? Out of everything that I’m called: sister, friend, Ms. Waterman, Seargent Waterman (when I was in the Air Force), the best thing I’m called everyday is ‘mom’. I love it. My oldest is graduating in December and is the first girl, and first grandchild to graduate from college. I don’t take a lot of credit…I mean I take some credit. As a parent you push your kids, threaten them [laughter], all the things you’re supposed to do as a parent. But I tell her all the time: ‘I’m proud of you, but you should be proud of you because you did the work’. So it’s her success, and I appreciate her for that.
I am Secretary of the Girl Scout Council for Eastern Carolina. All three girls (ages 21, 19 & almost 16) were in girl scouts, I grew up in girl scouts. I’m an Eastern Star so I do a lot of community service with the Eastern Stars. I became an Eastern Star because I was overseas a lot of the time. And of course you’re away from your family so you know, it was just an extension of family. I’m also active in my church so that’s another thing as well. So I just like to stay busy. And then of course I have the most wonderful sisters in the world. I have a great family, really great family, and even extended family.
C: Wow, you definitely have your hands full. And I really admire you for all you’ve done and continue to do.
When did you find out you had breast cancer?
LENORE: I have been battling this disease for about six years now, before I finally lost my breasts. In the beginning, I was told that I had severe fibrocystic disease, with a condition called atypic dysplasia, which at that time put me at a high risk (which is initially what they said). But then as time developed, and as we went along, different things started happening. The characteristics of the breasts started changing. When I was deployed in my last deployment to Iraq for a year, I started having major complications in my breasts and I had to be medevaced to Germany. When I got to Germany, the doctor said to me ‘You need to go home because this cancer is not getting any better’. And that was the second time (dealing with these breasts) that I had heard the word cancer. The very first time was when I had my very first mammogram, and as they were doing the mammogram, a fluid started leaking from my breasts, and the young technician said: ‘Ma’am do you have cancer?’ And I said to her, ‘Well that’s what we’re here to see. But from your reaction, I’m thinking yes.’
C: Wow, I had no idea it’s been a six year battle for you. What a scary thing to have been sent home because it had gotten so bad.
For someone who may be going through what you’ve been through, what advice do you have for other women who may have just heard that scary news for the first time themselves?
LENORE: Well the first thing that I would tell them…this would be the very first thing: don’t lose hope! You know, it’s painful when you go through it and everybody has a different experience with it. But a lot of how you go through it is your attitude towards it. Like if you feel, when you heard the word “cancer”, that was the end of your life…you put that in your mind, you put that in your body. And your body is already going through so much, so much; that for your body to feel you give up, you mentally shut down and it becomes an issue. So that would be one of the very first things I would tell them. Don’t give up. Don’t think of cancer as the last result.
The second thing I would tell them is to examine yourself. Examine your lifestyle, examine the people that are around you, examine, you know, your comings and your goings, and make a change if necessary. So if all you eat are bonbons, then maybe there’s an examination that needs to take place. But definitely examine yourself.
And listen to your doctors and take them for what they say. And this is the one thing that really helped me. My mom told me this: doctors practice medicine. They only practice medicine. You know your body better than anybody else so take a stand with doctors and be in partnership with them throughout your treatment and throughout your experience.
C: That is really, really great advice. I’m a firm believer that our thoughts have the power to manifest over our lives and what we make of it.
How does Lenore before breast cancer compare to Lenore the breast cancer survivor?
LENORE: I would say that now…the little things are simply that: they’re the little things. Before breast cancer I felt like I could — that I had to conquer the world, like every obstacle… every little thing was more than just a little thing to me. It was a big thing, you know it was: I couldn’t go to bed until this, that or the other was done. Now, it’s more that life is so precious at this very moment. And I don’t think that I didn’t think life was precious before, it just wasn’t as real to me as it is now. To know that seven surgeries later, I’m still standing, the little things are definitely the little things.
C: So you had seven surgeries from the time you were first diagnosed with breast cancer?
LENORE: Yes, Seven surgeries. Well I had two lumpectomies where I had two golf ball size lumps (one under each of my arms) to the point where I couldn’t put my arms down. So I had to have those removed. And then I had five biopsies because I had (the way my breast cancer was) these string of tumors that would attach to each other and create like a crest in the breast. So they would have to go in. And then eventually they would all abscess in the breast, so then they would have to go in and remove the abscesses. Yeah, it was…a lot.
C: If you had a chance to change anything, what would you do differently?
LENORE: I don’t think I would do anything differently from an overall standpoint. I mean I just believe that everybody has their cross to bear. So I think that this was my cross to bear. I think that if I would’ve done anything physically different, after my bilateral mastectomy, I would’ve just celebrated myself the way I was and not gotten the implants. I think I’m going through this thing now that I have the implants that it’s like…it’s a farse. They look like breasts but they’re really not. They don’t function like breasts. You can never really replace the real thing and that’s with anything in life. The authentic thing always stands true. So I think I would’ve celebrated just not having implants and that just being my testimony.
C: Well You definitely have one heck of a testimony so I’ll be looking forward to your book release (wink).
My interview with Lenore is only just beginning! Tune in tomorrow for PART 2, as she shares her thoughts on what we can do beyond the walks and beyond the donations, to help those women who are battling breast cancer.
If you would like to connect with Lenore, please feel free to subscribe to her Facebook posts by clicking here. You can also e-mail her directly at LeMichele @ ymail.com.
If you know a Mom ‘N Charge that should be featured in Real Moms, Real Talk (or, if that person just happens to be you), please contact us with the subject title “Guest Feature: Real Moms, Real Talk”. RMRT will be moving to a Blog Talk Radio station near you, so stay tuned!