Tuesday, November 19, 2019
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How My Breast Cancer Diagnosis Changed Everything

The one thing I hear is the idea that having cancer changes your outlook on life. One of the first letters we received from a friend when I got my diagnosis of breast cancer contained such sentiment. We were all, not yet 40, with small children, careers, stability finally just beginning to take hold. This friend, too, was a young cancer survivor. It was difficult to accept in the moment as we both read the words of the terrible journey about to arrive. Words meant to offer a taste of reality and encouragement. “I bet you and your wife look at life differently now”, he wrote. Maybe that’s true now. Back then, I had no idea what he really meant.

I am now a part of a club I never wanted to join. Saying the words “cancer survivor” does not yet easily roll off my tongue. When it comes at a time in life when you are just getting started, it is especially isolating as an identity. I felt side swiped. I had a short career. I had young children just starting school. Being thirty something, everything is out of order and chaotic as the momentum of one day bleeds into the next. Reflecting on the words of that letter we received from someone who “got it”, it was finally sinking in how different it was to cope with a catastrophic illness at a young age. He was the only friend we knew our age who had cancer. A support system is what is needed to simply get through the day. At this point in my life, I was the support system for everyone else.

Our children watched their strong mother melt away as my body quickly weakened during treatment. It was lonely at the hospital and especially at the breast care specialist. “How is your mother doing?” asked by a stranger, surprised when I got up wearing my plastic ID bracelet. Most of my room mates at chemotherapy spoke of their grandchildren and they complained of vacations never planned. Their self pity made me angry as I watched their adult children my age escort and assist them through their ordeal. There I was, with my small children too young to take life over; my own parents too far away and frail to be of assistance. In the beginning, you get a pile of brochures and booklets telling you what to expect. None of those materials told me how to hold back my tears when my 6 year old hugged me one morning saying, “I forget what you looked like before the cancer when you had long hair”. Then depression and guilt looms as my 8 year old son helps his little brother pack his lunch for school while I lay on the couch. I am supposed to be there for them, not the other way around. It was then I realized my children’s ability to cope would depend on taking my lead. I strayed from the usual pity train and began to smile my way through treatment. Since then, I have learned to mourn the losses and accept life as it comes. People tell you to keep a positive attitude. It doesn’t always come easy but it is a choice that has the power to change things. “That’s what he meant”, I realized.

That first letter is rooted in our souls. I remember wondering how they dealt with work and the kids. Now we are forever connected in this ugly experience. It’s all those little things in every day life that we take for granted. When suddenly we cannot do those simple things. It forces us to think upon our mortality. It reveals our true vulnerability and the fragile nature of life itself. Everyone warns you when you have children, ”they grow up fast”! That has a whole new meaning in the face of cancer. The resilience my children have shown propels me forward. I realize they are much stronger than me and I have learned to shift my outlook on life to the wise innocence of a child. We now leave the dishes in the sink and cuddle up to a good book. Cancer interrupted our busy lives. My children taught me to focus on today.

Laura
FLAGC Guest Writer

About Laura: Diagnosed in 2009 with Stage 3 metastatic breast cancer, Laura writes for Stupid Cancer and Talk About Health blogs. She also writes for her own blog at http://hidden-dragons.blogspot.com/.

This article is intended to convey general educational information and should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.

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4 comments

  1. All I can say is wow. I am blown away by this posting bc it expresses exactly how I feel and have had a hard time expressing. I was diagnosed with breast cancer last November in my late 30’s with an 11 yr old and 8 yr old. This brings tears to my eyes – what a gift to have all I’ve been feeling but not sure how to say so wonderfully verbalized here. Thank you so much for sharing this. I’ve finished chemotherapy, am 1/2 way thru radiation and will finish Herceptin in March. Blessings!
    Melissa

  2. a poem written by my sister after hearing that I have breast cancer..

    An emotional moment, I decided to write on paper..
    “I’M SORRY BREAST CANCER..BY Nancy Brooks

    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you came into my families lives and chose the wrong family member.
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you had no clue how strong, faithful, loving, compassionate and God Fearing my sister is.
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you had to remind me of how precious life is and how precious every moment with my family should be and you brought
    back regret of days past when I could’ve been there, stayed a little longer, or when I missed a family event
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you had to go to this extreme to make me realize how very much I love my sister and how she is who I strive to be like everyday.
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you are about to take on the toughest battle of your cancer cell driven life. This fight will be harder on you Cancer!
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you will have to undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatments in order to get rid of MY SISTER!
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you will have to undergo surgical procedures to get rid of MY SISTER!
    I’M Sorry Breast Cancer that you will be so overtaken by the sound of our prayers,
    the love in our hearts, the faith and loyalty of our God and the Strength and FAITHFULNESS of MY BEAUTIFUL SISTER!
    WE will completely consume you Breast Cancer.
    Breast Cancer, I’m sorry you have to learn the hard way that some of us WILL NOT QUIT, WILL NOT STOP FIGHTING, WILL NOT STOP PRAYING, WILL NOT
    GIVE YOU THE POWER!
    WE are in control here! U are trying to enter and destroy God’s house, one of his temples and we are here to tell you…
    I’m Sorry Breast Cancer..This time..There is NO CHANCE you are gonna win!

  3. a poem written for me by my sister after hearing that I have breast cancer :

    An emotional moment, I decided to write on paper..
    “I’M SORRY BREAST CANCER..BY Nancy Brooks

    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you came into my families lives and chose the wrong family member.
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you had no clue how strong, faithful, loving, compassionate and God Fearing my sister is.
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you had to remind me of how precious life is and how precious every moment with my family should be and you brought
    back regret of days past when I could’ve been there, stayed a little longer, or when I missed a family event
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you had to go to this extreme to make me realize how very much I love my sister and how she is who I strive to be like everyday.
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you are about to take on the toughest battle of your cancer cell driven life. This fight will be harder on you Cancer!
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you will have to undergo radiation and chemotherapy treatments in order to get rid of MY SISTER!
    I’m sorry Breast Cancer that you will have to undergo surgical procedures to get rid of MY SISTER!
    I’M Sorry Breast Cancer that you will be so overtaken by the sound of our prayers,
    the love in our hearts, the faith and loyalty of our God and the Strength and FAITHFULNESS of MY BEAUTIFUL SISTER!
    WE will completely consume you Breast Cancer.
    Breast Cancer, I’m sorry you have to learn the hard way that some of us WILL NOT QUIT, WILL NOT STOP FIGHTING, WILL NOT STOP PRAYING, WILL NOT
    GIVE YOU THE POWER!
    WE are in control here! U are trying to enter and destroy God’s house, one of his temples and we are here to tell you…
    I’m Sorry Breast Cancer..This time..There is NO CHANCE you are gonna win!

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