The unimaginable happened. While getting ready for work, I leaned forward and felt a lump in my breast. In denial about what I felt, I continued getting ready. But, the memory of my mother-in-law got in my head urging me to do a breast exam. Good thing I did because I was diagnosed with stage II IDC breast cancer a week later.
Ten years after treatment I am doing well. I watched my children graduate high school and college, my eldest daughter marry and the birth of my first grandchild, with the second on the way. When I was faced with this diagnosis, my first thought was, will I be around to share in these milestones. I was scared and anxious about my future and that of my family. My way of coping was to internalize my feelings. And although I shared my diagnosis with my immediate family, not many outside my family knew of my journey or struggles.
One of the things I would definitely tell my newly diagnosed self is you’re not alone on this cancer journey. Be willing to talk to people about what you’re experiencing and feeling, especially with other cancer patients. It doesn’t really matter the type of cancer, the person’s age or gender, cancer patients share many of the same fears and concerns. They are able to provide a level of support, understanding and hope based upon shared experiences that doesn’t come from well-intentioned family and friends. Start slowly at first if, like me, you’re introverted and private. I joined an exercise class that brought me together with other cancer patients. In addition to exercising, participants would share experiences and ask questions of each other, like a support group. I listened for several months and eventually felt comfortable sharing my own story. I realized that the more I opened up about my journey, the less scared and anxious I began to feel. Just knowing that others felt some of the same things I was feeling (both physically and mentally) brought me a sense of calmness that I am not sure I would have experienced had I continued on what I referred to as “private battle with cancer”.
Today I volunteer at my local cancer center where I share my story on a regular basis. Doing so brings hope to newly diagnosed patients and continues to be cathartic for me. My local cancer center provides opportunities for patients to participate in many different activities from traditional support groups, mentorships, exercise classes, line dancing, crafting, etc. If it is possible for the patient, I encourage them to get involved in one of these activities at some point during treatment. If this isn’t their cup of tea, I encourage them to strike up conversations in the waiting room or infusion room. Many are surprised by the positive feelings that come from the realization that their mental and physical concerns, in many cases, are shared by others.
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