As a breast cancer survivor, I’m not sure whether I love October or fear it. Seeing the spectrum of pink colors everywhere can be overwhelming. It’s a constant reminder that I’m sick. And yes, I know that thousands of women and men are afflicted with this disease yearly, so the pink promotion isn’t about me being ill. But sometimes, I just get inside my head. My thoughts go to the scary places that we all want to push away. And sometimes, I just want to cry.
I’m not sure when to celebrate my cancer-aversery.
Is it the day we found the first lump (12/18/2004?)
Is it the day of my first official diagnosis (12/29/04?)
Now, that I’ve had a reoccurrence, should I commemorate the day when scan reports outlined the probability of metastatic disease (8/29/13?) Or, should it be the night of Friday the 13th (9/13/13) when my oncologist’s voice quietly gave me the official word – “It IS cancer.”
Throughout this cancer journey, I’ve stumbled upon amazing organizations that have helped my family and others navigate through this experience. So today, in honor of “International Day of Charity,” I’ve listed some of my favorite cancer charities and how you can donate. Their missions serve people in different ways. Some focus on research to find a cure, while others promote early detection to prevent it altogether.
I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in the Fall of 2013. The news was shocking and sobering, especially considering I knew very few people who thrived with it. Scared beyond comprehension, filled with sleepless nights and worries dancing through my head, I thought I knew what that diagnosis meant. At the same time, publicity ramped up for Disney’s “Frozen,” but I didn’t pay attention. The movie opened Thanksgiving weekend and after the holidays, the world knew it was not only a box office hit, but the key to a young girl’s heart. I didn’t realize, it would be to mine, as well.
As the world was singing “Do you Want to Build a Snowman, ” I was anxiously awaiting my first set of scans after being diagnosed. My mind was filled with wildly ranging thoughts:
Was this the calm before the storm? Would the results show tremendous growth and I would only have a few months or years left?
If so, would my child really know me? Should we tell him or not?
Will my new treatments debilitate me? Will I feel like myself? Will I be myself?
You get the phone call or email that a friend has just been diagnosed with [insert crappy diagnosis here] and you don’t know what to do. Do you call? If you call, what do you say? You opt not to call because:
1. You aren’t sure you should know.
2. You don’t know what you would say because you haven’t been in their shoes.
3. Or your friend must be swamped and you don’t want to bother her.
So, how then do you help a sick friend?
I’ve had cancer for over a decade. While there has been many roller coasters along the way, the first few weeks after a diagnosis were the most stressful and mentally draining. Through my cancer journey, like my business career, having role models and mentors were critical. I had many people look out for me and so I believe in doing the same. While I never wanted to be “Caryn with Cancer,” if my stories and learnings can help someone else find a little ease with this disease, then I want to share them all. When it comes to the initial diagnosis, unfortunately you can’t bury your head in the sand for long. You have to make several decisions in a short amount of time. Below are some tips that worked for me when it came to handling those first few weeks.
As a recovering work-obsessed multi-tasker, I spent most days analyzing work and life situations while also writing emails, listening to conference calls in the car driving, or reading industry information during exercise sessions. The idea of “doing it all” energized me. But truthfully, I was always exhausted and stressed. I took yoga a few times to “de-stress,” but found limiting my thoughts to be impossible. In addition, I felt foolish because I thought everyone around me was “better at stretching.” So I gave up before I really even began. Despite my lackluster first experiences with it, I ran to yoga after my second breast cancer diagnosis and haven’t turned back since.