BY Kristi Powers, GUEST WRITER TO THE TIMES
CENTRAL FLORIDA – Hope. Connection. Raising money for research to find a cure.
“Cancer is not a death sentence; it’s a life sentence. Don’t lay down, put those gloves on, roll up your sleeves and fight.” Bernadette Osson, breast cancer survivor
This is what the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk means to Bernadette Osson. The Starchild Academy curriculum director has been her school’s team captain for the walk for about five years now. This year – it’s personal.
At 2:43 p.m. on November 20, 2021, she got a call forever seared into her memory.
“I’m sitting in a meeting in the office and my phone rings from my doctor’s office. I pick up,” said Osson. “It’s invasive carcinoma. I’m just silent. He says – you have cancer in the left breast.”
She immediately thought, “what did I do wrong?” Sitting in her car in disbelief, Osson, then 47 and a single mother of two called her sister to tell her the devastating news. When she hung up, she cried.
Her journey started a few months earlier when she put on lotion and felt a lump in her breast. She scheduled a mammogram, and the rest is history. By December, Osson met with the AdventHealth Cancer Institute team that would oversee her treatment, starting on her 48th birthday.
“When we see breast cancer patients on their first visit, we have the breast surgeon, medical oncologist and radiation oncologist involved in discussing the patient’s situation,” said Dr. Sarah George, Medical Oncologist with the AdventHealth Cancer Institute and part of Osson’s care team. “Having different perspectives sitting at the table in overseeing their care helps with a patient’s peace of mind and helps coordinate the creation of a comprehensive treatment plan.”
Osson started chemotherapy in January and said she faced her lowest moment in February when her hair started falling out.
“I felt ugly. I felt invisible,” her voice quivering as she relived the moment. “I didn’t recognize the person who was looking back at me,” Osson paused as she cried and said, “I didn’t look at myself in the mirror for about a month.
“Breast cancer isn’t just a physical fight, it’s a mental battle. I encourage my patients to think of going through chemotherapy as a war that they are waging against cancer,” said Dr. George. “They are the soldiers, and I’m honored to give them the tools they need to fight, while family and friends provide the support.”
When asked how she kept moving forward, she answered, “I have a post-it note on my mirror that says, ‘Find the Good’ and that’s what I did. Even when I didn’t feel well, I still had my life and my kids. I wasn’t going to go down.”
After five months of chemotherapy, she rang the bell in June marking a milestone in her battle. By August, she underwent a lumpectomy, followed by six weeks of radiation, and by mid-October, Osson had a new title – breast cancer survivor.
It’s been a year now with her new “survivor” title and she plans to display it proudly on her pink shirt for the Making Strides Against Breast Cancer walk on Saturday, October 28 in downtown Orlando.
“I have about 60 friends, family, co-workers, school parents and my kids walking alongside me on my team this year. I feel the love and support.”
When she looks back on her breast cancer journey, Osson quickly replies, “Cancer was my biggest teacher. I learned that there are good people in this world and discovered they will show up even on the days that I couldn’t show up for myself.”