Sometimes being strong is facing the one thing you fear the most. I am 25 years old and was diagnosed with Stage 1 breast cancer. Fortunately, this past July 2012, I beat it. After my lumpectomy I tried to bury my thoughts, feelings and the fact that I actually had breast cancer. But facing it was the one thing that made me stronger.
I look at life through a whole new set of eyes. Nothing to me is small in life. Every day I wake up thankful that I get to be here; that I get to talk with my family, friends, enjoy a Starbucks coffee, laugh, cry and feel.
The morning of June 25th changed me. I was on my way into work, one hour away from a client visiting the office for an update meeting. Against my doctor’s judgment, I told her to tell me results over the phone. As soon as I hear ‘breast cancer’, I immediately went numb. My mind flashed to the image of my grandmother in the recovery room after her double mastectomy one-year prior.
As I walk into the office, the thought of breast cancer could not escape my mind. I felt alone, betrayed by my body, scared, angry, confused, and all I wanted to do was cry.
I walked into my boss’s office and threw my arms around her. I needed to hug, to breath, to feel. As I confirmed her questions of my results she told me we were going to kick cancer’s ass. Tears in my eyes, forcing a half smile, I let out a breathy giggle. To me, now was not the time to share this news with my co-workers. I wiped away my tears, forced a smile on my face and went about my Monday as if it was any regular Monday.
My drive home was emotional. Earlier in the day I had made calls to my grandmother and mother sharing my news. I didn’t quite know what to feel, all I knew was I needed to cry. I went to my best friends apartment so I wasn’t alone, and cried in his arms for a good 20 minutes. I again wiped my tears away and went numb. I began to receive calls from my family members. I cannot remember any of the conversations, but I can remember the tones in their voices. My grandfathers in particular hit me HARD.
I did not want to go to work the next day. I just wanted to cry and get all the details and next steps for surgery. I did not want to feel sorry for myself, but just to be alone. I still can’t explain that feeling of wanting to be alone to this day.
My boss did not believe that me being alone was the right thing for me to do. Against my comfort, I humored her and came into the office. A select few of my coworkers were gathered around a conference room table listening to a Tony Robbins excerpt. I sat down, sunglasses on and face wet with tears and listened along. I did not want to be there.
The next thing I remember is someone making a statement about how we need to put others first and I immediately erupted. I went into a long-winded speech about how I was diagnosed with breast cancer Monday morning, but no one in the office knew because I put all of them first. I cared more so about the state of emotion at that company than I did my own. I did not say this because I wanted everyone to feel sorry for me or because I wanted them to feel guilty. I wanted them all to understand how much I cared about them regardless of everything else going on.
The next two weeks leading up to surgery were a blur. I spent my days at work and my nights staying in fighting insomnia and crying. My family held a cook out before surgery to show their support. As much as I wanted to be alone, it was nice to be around them.
After surgery and for two months, I treated cancer like a band-aid I had ripped off, never looking at the wound, so to speak. I thought that by approaching breast cancer like a business transaction, it was the best way to be strong and cope. A weekend visiting old friends made me see things differently.
I flew to Buffalo, NY for a weekend with friends for a pub-crawl put together every year. I hadn’t seen everyone in a year and was so excited to focus on a weekend of drinking, fun and no focus on breast cancer. This amazing weekend made me face my emotions for the first time. They had no idea at the time, but that particular group of friends helped change my outlook on life for the better. To them, I will always be grateful for this awakening.
The fear of cancer is with me; I am human. The whole weekend I was thankful and appreciative of everyone, and serious thoughts were in my head. I thought ‘What if I can’t visit for a while because my cancer comes back and I have to go through chemo?’ and ‘This could be my last trip to Buffalo’. These thoughts did not make me sad or scared, but made me want to take advantage of every opportunity the weekend had to offer. That weekend made me look at my life in a completely different way.
I realized I needed to take time to myself to evaluate what I was going through, and I needed the time to do it. I needed to take a step back from the politics of work because it was not helping with my recovery mentally or physically, I needed to reassess the people in my life who were there to help and the ones who were there to judge, but most of all I needed to focus on myself.
From day one; doctors, nurses and other patients tell you that this is a time to be selfish in your life. That those you have put first need to turn around and show you the same courtesy. I was connected with another young survivor that helped me to realize all of the emotions and thoughts I had were normal and I had every right to go through them. After a two-hour phone conversation I started to feel better.
We decided to meet and talk in person over coffee. Four hours after meeting at the coffee house and sharing our stories, emotions, tears and hopes I was happy I now had this person in my life. Not only do I feel like I have support and understanding, but a great friend for life.
Saturday September 15th, I received a call that I needed to come in for a biopsy on my other (right) breast. My breast cancer was found in my left breast and I have to go through six months of biopsies just as a preventative measure, as well as take medication every day for the next five years. Just that past Wednesday was round two of my biopsies and I had an ultra sound on my right breast just as a check up.
When I received the call and after I left my second biopsy appointment of the week, fear and anger rushed over me: Not again! As I sit and wait for my test results two thoughts run through my mind: how lucky I am to have experienced so many different things in my lifetime and how lucky I am to know all the people who are a part of my life.
The reality of cancer is it will always be there in my mind, both with positive and negative thoughts. This doesn’t make me weak; it makes me stronger, human and most of all, a survivor.
The informational content of this article is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.
This story is intended to convey a personal experience and, because every person’s experience is unique, should not be relied upon as a substitute for professional healthcare advice.