Daunting Firsts from Cancer

This was the year.

The year of many firsts.

First mammogram.

First ultrasound.

First breast biopsy.

First medical phone call, revealing a diagnosis of cancer.

First time at an oncologist’s office, speechless at the words “triple-negative breast cancer.”

First surgery, a port placement.

First chemotherapy.

First wisps of hair loss, slowly at first, then all at once.

First major side effect, a generalized rash turning me into a walking human strawberry.

First prescription medication.
First major surgery, a partial mastectomy with a sentinel node biopsy.

First radiation dose.

And with each first, I saw myself transforming into someone different on the outside, bearing new scars and without hair, a physical reminder of cancer’s toll. But underneath it all, was still me.

And as I stare at myself in the mirror, I realized that this was the first. The first time I really slowed down to take a look at myself in the mirror. To evaluate my life. To pause. To enjoy the Fall leaves. To go on slow walks. To think about the foods I was nourishing my body with. To reconnect with friends and family. To create art. To dive deep into a fictional book and get lost.

And as I start to tally the firsts, I see that while there are many firsts that feel like they’re out of my control. There are just as many firsts that were in my control. And these firsts brought me peace, healing and helped me look at the world through a different lens.

As an adult diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 35, I felt like I entered a different world; one filled with doctor’s visits and careful attention to my health, both physically and mentally. I experienced a plethora of “firsts,” which seemed daunting at the time. Every first held with it uncertainty and a degree of unknown. But upon reflection, cancer helped me prioritize many things in my life that I had previously been neglecting. And those firsts opened my eyes to the beauty of life and the type of meaningful life I’d like to lead going forward.

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

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