Cancer Showed Me Who My Friends Were (and Weren’t)

I had a routine mammogram in December 2018. A few weeks later, I got a letter from the facility telling me I needed an ultrasound for “inconclusive findings due to dense breast tissue.”The tech told me to “not get dressed until the doctor can talk to you,” and told me there was a tumor and I’d need a biopsy.

The tumor was tiny and estrogen positive, which my gynecologist explained was “the cancer you want to have, if you have to have cancer.” I researched everything I could online, learned a lot but also got even more scared and anxious, because hearing, “You’ve got cancer” means you immediately think the worst.

I spent the next few days gathering old films, reports, tissue samples, telling work (but not my kids just yet, one on a Navy deployment in a sub, the other studying abroad) and having my mind take me to very unpleasant places. I’m a doer, a control freak who overthinks and over analyzes situations and for the first time ever, I took anxiety medications. I stressed non-stop and blamed myself for getting cancer, which made no sense but certainly contributed to the stress.

The surgeon offered a few treatments, including trying to shrink the tumor that couldn’t even be felt or seen on earlier mammograms, I said “get this bleeping thing out of me!” The surgery was routine, clear margins, and I was home that evening, not a lot of pain. I tried to resume a “normal” life, except for the fact my brain was going 24/7 with fear and worry.

I healed well, but when I met with the oncologist, she saidI’d need chemotherapy. Since I’m the type who overthinks and plans for every possible outcome, I’d already decided if it was recommended, I’d go for chemo (already knew I’d be getting radiation and go on an aromatase inhibitor). I started chemo the next day, four rounds three weeks apart.

Chemo wasn’t as bad as I’d worried, but losing my hair was devastating and a constant reminder of my battle. My husband kept telling me I was going to be OK, but I knew he hid his concerns from me. Cancer is with you 24/7 and rather than sleep, I lay awake and worried. I was afraid to go out in public and people would look at me — a sickly looking bald person in a mask — and I avoided going out if Ipossibly could. Some friends shunned me (apparently cancer is contagious, hey, who knew?) which really hurt!

Once chemo was over, I had radiation. The techs took great care of me. They asked me what music I liked and made sure that was on the sound system when I got in. We laughed a lot, and they made a difficult time easier. Idon’t remember their names, butI’ll never forget their kindness.

I now volunteer with several cancer organizations, and I speak to patients going through treatment and I’m now feeling great and optimistic, although cancer is never far from my mind. I started the journey with fear, anxiety and feeling totally alone.If I knew then what I know now, I don’t think I’d have done much differently. The diagnosis is so overwhelming and terrifying you have to muddle through in whatever fashion works best for you — only you know what that is.When someone reaches out to me, I just listen, they want to talk, they might want a hug, or a snack, or a joke…only they know what they need, and I try to be there for them.

I hated hearing “You got this…you’re gonna be fine” and all those other platitudes. Empty words don’t help, kind gestures do. One of the nicest things anyone ever did was a friend who was shocked, but immediately asked me what she could pick me up at the supermarket to bring over so we could chat; she did and we laughed, didn’t talk cancer but she somehow distracted me and broke a cycle of anxiety and despair.

I’d tell a newly diagnosed person it’s going to be tough, there will be bad days with fear, anxiety and stress, and you may feel really sick. Cancer is a bond that unites strangers in a way you’d never imagine. I found out who my friends were (and weren’t!) but the community we have with one another is unique, crazy and fulfilling. That one day, you’ll wake up and cancer won’t be the first thing on your mind, or the last thing you think about before falling asleep. And that day, you’ll have turned a corner from cancer being a constant buzzing in your brain to being a part of who you are.

When I first got sick, I bought myself a ring inscribed with “this too shall pass” in Hebrew and in English. And that is what I tell myself everyday —to end this essay with another line, a quote from my favorite singer, Bruce Springsteen, “Better Days Keep Shining Through.”

This post was written and submitted by a CURE reader. The article reflects the views the author and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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