This is from my journal, written soon after my diagnosis. I know it has only been a month, but after having a little time to process all of this and going back to read over some of these entries, part of me feels like I was maybe being a little over-dramatic at times. But these feelings were very real in the moment and for a while afterwards (and if I’m being honest, they still crop up every now and then), so in an effort to preserve the realness without diminishing my feelings at the time, most of my next few posts will be written as journal entries, because that’s what they are.
Most people have at least one day they can look back on and think, “That was the first day of the rest of my life.” It could be a graduation, a marriage, a birth, a death.
A cancer diagnosis.
One day your life is going wonderfully. You may run into a hiccup every now and then that seems like the end of the world, but for the most part, your life is good. You have a great inner circle of friends who genuinely want nothing but the best for you. You finally get out of a job that you hate and into one that treats you like you are of some value. You’ve got a little extra money, so you buy a dog. That dog becomes your child, your whole life. You buy a house and start to settle down. You think it could be fun to spend the next few years living there and making improvements to your house. You are happy and really starting to enjoy this little life you are building for yourself.
Then one day you go in for your annual physical and your doctor feels a lump. She sends you to have a mammogram and within a week you’re sitting in yet another doctor’s office being told you have breast cancer. You sit down with a nurse who’s sole job is to navigate you through the next steps in this process and she lays out exactly what you are dealing with and what to expect next. And all of a sudden, you see your life coming to a shattering halt.
You close your eyes that night hoping to wake up from this nightmare, but when you wake up the next day, your nurse navigator is still calling you to see how you’re doing, to see if you’ve heard from this doctor or to make sure you’ve scheduled that appointment. That huge bruise on your boob from the biopsy is still there, and you slowly come to realize that this is your life for the next few months. Not some horrible dream.
You get used to people throwing words around like ‘lumpectomy,’ ‘mastectomy,’ ‘chemo,’ and ‘radiation.’ You’re thankful every time they say, “we caught it early,” but another part of you just wants them to shut up. Because cancer is cancer and you want it out. ASAP.
You get accustomed to waiting on test results and phone calls. You get used to knowing you have cancer and that it is treatable but not having a plan of action for weeks because you’re waiting on some test result to come back or some doctor appointment to discuss your “options” (like you have so many when the lump they found is larger than the size of your thumb). Your life suddenly becomes a whirlwind of doctor appointments and waiting on phone calls from those doctors.
Meanwhile, the rest of your life still has to go on. The dog still needs to be walked, the cat still needs human contact on the days he decides to come inside (Gray is currently living his best life), you still have to go to work, and that New Year’s Resolution isn’t going to achieve itself!
You have to decide really quickly whether or not you keep this diagnosis to yourself or if you are going to share it with others. You figure it is easier for your own sanity to be open about it than to keep it a secret. You come to expect the look of shock on people’s faces when you tell them you are 30 and have breast cancer. You get used to navigating hospitals and eventually get comfortable enough to bring a book to the waiting rooms.
You learn more about your family history of cancer than you ever thought you needed to know. Hell, you learn more about cancer itself than you ever thought you needed to know.
You find yourself lying face-down on an MRI bed, boobs hanging freely through two holes like they are waiting for someone to throw rotten food at them. All the while willing your body and mind not to panic when the bed pushes you back into the tube because you told your doctor you weren’t claustrophobic (liar!!). You spend the next 40 minutes swearing that if you make it through this MRI and ever have to have another one, you will take that damn pill they offer for anxiety during these procedures.
You eventually get used to literally everyone feeling up your breasts, taking pictures of them. Multiple people in the exam rooms watching all of this happen. It’s just a part of life now. You don’t get to have secrets or privacy anymore.
You realize that you’ve got some major life decisions to make in the coming months and try not to think about how unfair it is that you are, essentially, having to do this alone because you are single. You realize that you have to stop dating because telling a guy you have breast cancer on a first (or even a fifth) date isn’t likely to go over well.
You go back to the day you were diagnosed a hundred times knowing that it won’t do any good to dwell on it but not really being able to stop yourself.
And then you find out how truly wonderful your group of friends and family are when they step up and offer to take you to your appointments. When they wait an hour and a half in some freezing hospital room while you have that MRI done or a biopsy taken. Your mom happily pulls herself out of her newfound freedom with retirement to come stay with you for however long it takes to get well. You find out how great your job really is when your coworkers offer to take you to your appointments. Or when they set you up to work from home when ever you need it.
And you realize that, no matter what, people are on your side and everything is going to be okay, in time, if you can just be patient and calm enough to get there.
April 23, 2018 was the first day of the rest of my life. It was the day I was diagnosed with breast cancer. What follows will be my journey to find healing and getting my life back to “normal.”
Although our situations are very different, a lot of what you described is very similar to what I’m going through.
Some things that we’ve learned –
1. Keep yourself surrounded by loved ones. These people and lots of prayers will get you through these dark times.
2. If talking about what’s going on helps you, talk. Some people will be uncomfortable, but that’s part of the problem. If a topic is uncomfortable, people pretend that it doesn’t exist, but that doesn’t change the fact that it does exist.
3. People will often say things that aren’t even remotely helpful, and sometimes are even hurtful. People just don’t know what to say, because there’s nothing they can say that is truly helpful. Just remember they (usually) have good intentions.
4. It’s okay to cry.
I’m going to leave you with the only helpful words I’ve found through our hard time – I love you and I’m praying for you.
Thank you, Angela. I completely agree on all fronts. I want people to know they are not alone, and I am happy that my situation is helping you despite the differences. This post has already served its purpose for that reason alone.
I love you and am praying for you as well!