Name: Rachel Sommerville
Diagnosed At Age: 41
Status: Completed treatments on August 20th, 2013

Bio: I am a single mom. I have two amazing children: Jessica age 14, freshman; and Colin age 12, seventh grade. I am a seventh grade language arts teacher at Mason Middle School. This is my fourteenth year of teaching and my ninth year at Mason. I can’t imagine doing anything else than being a teacher! I love my job, my students, my coworkers and my school. I am truly blessed!

My reaction when I was first diagnosed: Shock. Numbness. Fear. I will never forget when I hit play on my answering machine and heard the numerous messages asking me to call back regarding my mammogram. (It was only my second!) When I realized the nurse had called several times in two days, I knew something was wrong. I felt around and found the lump. If you’ve ever had a wave of terror hit you–like when you are about to crash your car, or your child is about to get hurt and you can’t reach her–then you know how I felt in that moment. When I went to the hospital for a diagnostic mammogram and ultrasound, the doctor took one look and immediately replied, “I think it’s cancer.” I remember the nurses propelling me back to the changing room because I was too stunned to remember where I was supposed to go. Later, I made myself a playlist with “Live Like You Were Dying” by Tim McGraw, “Survivor” by Destiny’s Child, and “Stronger” (What Doesn’t Kill You Makes You Stronger) by Kelly Clarkson at the top of the list. I walked and listened to the songs over and over and over. I didn’t cry until the doctors told me that I would have to have chemotherapy because I knew my hair would fall out, I would have to tell my students and coworkers, I would look sick and people would feel sorry for me.

How I’m feeling now: Impatient. I have been strong and independent my whole life. I long to have my hair, strength and energy back; to lose the twenty pounds I gained during chemotherapy and radiation; and to feel healthy again. Now that I am done with my treatments, I am committed to losing the excess weight, eating food that will heal and nourish my body, and returning to a fitness plan that involves running and moderate weight lifting.

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My inspirations: My family, friends, coworkers, students, parents of students, doctors, nurses and other survivors!
My support system: My family, friends, coworkers, students, parents of students, doctors, nurses and other survivors! My mom and/or sister went to all my doctors appointments and chemotherapy treatments; my boyfriend cooked delicious food and took care of me; my sister-in-law sent me cards of encouragement before every treatment and other gifts to encourage me; my daughter and friends sent me texts of encouragement; and my family, friends and colleagues brought me meals, cards, gifts, photos, scarves; my students gave me a bracelet, cards and other gifts; my sister gave me a prayer shawl; parents (that I had never even met) sent me cards and journals and flowers. Every where I turned, someone was there to cheer for me, even strangers at restaurants, shops and the mall. I have received so much love and support that I couldn’t possibly do anything other than be strong and fight!

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I’m proud of: My positive attitude and courage. I told my students, parents, and everyone I knew that this was just a “little lump in the road.” My boyfriend told me two things that I will never forget: 1) Every treatment is a victory for me, and 2) You will be exactly how you think you will be. And so I focused on being strong and happy. The doctors and nurses said that I handled my treatments amazingly well. I think it all has to do with the support from so many people who care about me and my positive attitude.

I’m afraid of: The cancer returning. And that’s why I have been researching how to avoid a recurrence and am committed to eating food that will nourish my body, losing weight and being active.

I’ve learned: To let people help you. One, you need the help. Two, it makes other people feel good. They want to help. Let them. Don’t keep it all in, and don’t try to do it all by yourself.

My advice to new patients: Ask lots of questions of your doctors, and don’t settle for the first surgeon, oncologist, or radiation oncologist you meet if it doesn’t feel right. Get a second opinion if something doesn’t feel right, and trust your instincts. Take someone with you to your appointments; they will be able to digest and remember the information better than you (you have a lot on your mind!) and ask questions that you might not think of. Never suffer in silence. If you are concerned, worried, uncomfortable, in pain, nauseous, or wondering about anything, ASK. The doctors and nurses want to help you and can adjust your medication, give you advice, answer questions, etc. that will make you feel better. Exercise and eat as well as you can. A nurse once told me that the people who do the best with treatment are the ones who stick to their normal routines. Remember, breast cancer is very treatable and curable! And most of all, be strong! You CAN get through this! You are a warrior–grab your shield and sword, and fight!

To see more of our 31 Survivors in 31 Days stories, click here!