April 30, 2014. It’s a date I’ll never forget. And unlike some of the other important dates in my life (Jan. 13, 1995 – the birth of my daughter; Oct. 7, 1989 – my marriage), April 30 is remembered not because of its happy events. To the contrary, it was the date I heard the words no woman ever wants to hear (and which I never expected), “You have breast cancer.”
The following weeks were full of doctor visits, tests, scans, tears, anxiety and, much to my surprise, laughter and friendships (old and new). Now, just a little more than two months into it, I can see that breast cancer has already taught me so much, including:
- Cancer isn’t necessarily a death sentence. To the contrary. I have met so many people who have been through this disease and who are not only surviving but thriving. I plan to join the group of survivors.
- Every case is different. Your diagnosis doesn’t necessarily provide you with a crystal ball into your long-term prognosis. You also have to know that the effects of treatments vary from person to person. While some women have to take a week off of work following each treatment, others are sometimes able to push through it. Don’t compare your progress to others’. Listen to your body. And take the time YOU need to return to health.
- Breast cancer has a huge network of supporters. Within days of receiving this devastating diagnosis, three survivors had reached out to me and spent hours with me on the phone sharing their personal experiences, encouragement, tips and insights. I’ve met others along the way. Several of these amazing women have visited me during treatments; sent cards, letters and other uplifting gifts; reached out regularly throughout the process to see how I’m doing and, I’m sure, have become lifelong friends.
- You don’t have to go through it alone. Charlotte offers a wealth of support services to breast cancer patients, particularly through the Pink House and the Buddy Kemp Center. Take advantage of those resources that speak to you. Educate yourself and your loved ones about your illness and reach out to those who can support you throughout your journey to recovery.
- Your friends and family members really do want to help. Let them. It’s okay to accept offers of food, transportation to doctor visits, etc., even when (maybe especially if) you’re used to being independent. Accepting offers of support not only helps you at a time when you really need it, but it makes your friends and family members feel good because they’re able to demonstrate through their actions their love for you. It’s a win/win for everyone involved.
There have been many other learnings along the way and, I’m sure, I’ll continue to learn throughout this journey. My goal is to ultimately pay it forward by serving as a resource to others who one day hear the words, “You have breast cancer.” I hope to be one of the survivors who reaches out to let those women know that while this might be the end of life as they know it, it’s the beginning of a life very much worth living.