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Lisa Lipton: Cancer without a warning

Lisa Lipton has lived every woman’s worst fear.

Sitting at her computer on a Saturday morning, Lipton scratched an itch and found a lump on her breast.

Lipton, then 39, had no history of breast cancer in her family, and her mammogram a few years earlier had been clean. But when she went to the doctor that Monday her worst fears were confirmed. She had breast cancer.

“I was in shock,” she said. “It was like someone punched me in the stomach. I couldn’t believe it. I had no history of breast cancer in my family. I was healthy. How did this happen to me? I never would have thought this could happen to me.”

After discovering the cancer, she went home and had a talk with her 7-year-old son, Zachary Jones.

“He came to me a couple of times and told me, ‘Okay, we gotta kick it in the ass, Mommy.’ I’d tell him, ‘We’re going to get it, Zack,’” she said.

During the next few months, Lipton went through six rounds of chemo and 33 rounds of radiation.

“I had poison pumped through my veins every three weeks,” she said. “I think I cried more when I lost my hair than when I found out I had cancer.”

For days after each treatment, the chemo left her “sicker than a dog,” she said. She could just lie on the couch and do her best to take care of her son and husband. Eventually, she lost her hair.

“There were definitely days I wanted to give up,” she said. “I’d get sick just thinking about going to chemo. But, then I thought, ‘I can’t. I have a young child, and I’m young.’ If I didn’t have my son, I can’t say I wouldn’t have had a different attitude. But I knew I had to do it for him.”

Though it was a terrible battle against the disease, Lipton considers herself lucky. If she hadn’t found the cancer when she did, it would have spread to her lungs, brains and bones. As it was, the doctor removed a three-centimeter lump.

“The doctor was shocked the cancer hadn’t spread to my lymph nodes,” she said. “I was very lucky that it didn’t spread.”

While the cancer has been removed, and so far has not returned, the effects of the chemo — memory loss, mouth sores, aches and an abnormal menstrual cycle — will continue for the rest of her life. She is also still waiting for her insurance company to approve reconstructive surgery, since one breast was left smaller than the other.

“And every time I feel pain, I worry about cancer,” she said. “It is always in the back of my mind.”

Having been confronted with her own mortality, “I do my best to live life to the fullest,” she said. “You never know what’s going to happen.”

As a survivor, Lipton encourages women not to take their health for granted.

“The minute you get breasts you have to do your own checks,” she said. “If you don’t know how to do it, go to your doctor. If you don’t want to go to a doctor, pull it up on the Internet. Some people think you don’t have to, because you don’t have a family history. But you have to.”