Lately, I’ve heard too many stories about friends, sisters, coworkers, people who have been diagnosed with breast cancer. I’ve been asked by some to write a letter or make a phone call to let these gals know what to expect. Honestly, I could write a letter, but it would be long, it could help a little bit, but they still have to go through it all themselves. I hate it when people tell me “so and so had breast cancer and they said this, this and this.” I know they have good intentions, but there have been some points in my battle with breast cancer I didn’t want to hear what your cousin’s sister’s co-worker had to say about her breast cancer battle. However, I wanted to hear the story straight from her mouth.
I searched for stories from women who were young, had children, went through mastectomies, chemo, and radiation. I wanted to hear their story from them. I’m not trying to be rude to all of you who have encouraged me and loved me throughout this ongoing process, I appreciate the fact that you are doing what you can to help me. My point is this: I want to talk with those who have been through it, those who have fought it or are fighting it, whether they are winning or losing. There is something different when you hear a story from the person who lived it, than hearing it from someone who heard it from someone else.
Here is what I have to say to young women who have been diagnosed with breast cancer.
My Dear Girl, You are now part of a sisterhood you never wanted to be part of or expected to join. It’s ok to be angry, upset, sad, devastated, full of fear. The day I was diagnosed I couldn’t stop asking, “Why Me?” This wasn’t right, nobody in my family has breast cancer. I’m too young. Go through all these emotions and don’t be afraid of them. The next days were filled with doctor’s appointments and I broke down in every one of them. It’s ok to cry in the middle of the conversation where you are talking about having your breasts cut off and whether or not you’ll have reconstruction immediately. These are life-changing moments and you need to do what you need to do to get through them.
Waking up after my mastectomy was the worst pain ever in my life. I was helpless, I couldn’t do anything. Let people help you. If you have a mother, sister, friend who wants to be with you, let them. My husband needed time away from it all. He needed to be with my boys for at least a few hours a day. My mother came and helped me go to the bathroom, sit up and eat, washed me, emptied my drains.
After I went home, I needed more help than ever. I couldn’t lift my arms for a long time. I needed help in the shower. This is important to remember: ASK FOR HELP and TAKE HELP. I am a caretaker by nature. It is what I do. I’m the full-time mom and homemaker. It was so difficult to accept help, but I did. I had so many friends offer to bring meals, babysit, and give of themselves. Let them do these things for you. It lets them feel helpful in this crazy time and you are cared for.
The first few weeks after the mastectomy are the worst. The drains literally drain the life out of you and limit what you can do. The good news is they will come out. You’ll feel like a free woman. You’ll catch glimpses of a normal life.
Then you’ll start chemotherapy. I know some people do chemo first, but my journey was mastectomy, delayed reconstruction, chemo, MAYBE radiation, hormone therapy for five years.
Chemotherapy sucks. It’s not pleasant and the only good thing is that it’s killing the cancer. I am on AC/T. I had 4 doses (dose dense) of AC. It made me sick, it made me tired, my hair fell out, I gained weight from the steroids, I lost my taste buds, I hated and dreaded chemo. Then, after 8 weeks, it was over and I moved on to the Taxol. I’ve had two does of that so far and let me tell you what, it is a completely different experience. The Taxol does none of those things, so far. I’m a little tired after I get my chemo, but I’m not sick. I’ve been able to work out with a trainer and get back to making my body strong.
I feel like I’m getting my life back. You will too. You’ll reach points that help you see there is an end to whatever you are going through. Some days it will hit you square in the face and you’ll cry and get upset. Yesterday, I stared at my chest in the mirror for a good 10 minutes and wondered if I’ll ever feel sexy or pretty again. The scars go across my chest with a constant reminder that I’m not who I was. I try to be brave and tell people it’s an experience that is making me stronger, but some days I don’t believe it and the pep talks to myself don’t work. Other days, I find a story of a survivor and realize it is going to be OK. Whether I get through this and never have cancer again or I have to deal with cancer the rest of my life, I WILL GET THROUGH THIS.
Take care of yourself. Do what you can with your family and learn when to say no. If you can’t make it to every special day at your kid’s school, it’s ok. Your kids will understand. When you can read them a book or spend a few extra moments with them, do it, because you may not feel like it again for a while. If you need to spend the morning in bed, do it. You need to put yourself first right now. That may go against everything you’ve ever done, but you need to get better so you can get back to your life.
Never feel like you are alone. You have me. I don’t know you, but I’d love to get to know you. Even if we just talk through emails or Facebook. Don’t worry, you can do this.