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.
When I was younger, preparation for bikini/wedding/holidays or frankly any season, inevitably meant a new workout regimen. Endless hours were spent scouring magazines for the hottest new fitness fad, hoping it would get me beach-ready. Unfortunately, because of this silly commitment, I became the proud owner of Jane Fonda videos, the Thigh Master, the Bowflex and the Shake Weight. Bring on summer of 2014, then 2015 and now 2016 where my focus is flipped from looking pretty to being well. And now my clothes fit without all the gizmos. How have I done it? Give a round of applause for a plant-based diet, a little yoga and a lot of walking.
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 wasn’t scared of the painful side effects from surgery.
I wasn’t scared of fatigue and emotional drain from a packed schedule of cancer doctor appointments.
I wasn’t scared of humongous machines filled with radiation.
And I wasn’t scared of chemotherapy … I was petrified.
When I was first diagnosed, I only knew a few people who went through cancer treatment. And I didn’t know much about their experiences, so I really had no idea what to expect. I feared the worst when I was told I needed chemo; my stomach sank and anxiety filled my chest. I imaged myself regularly hugging a toilet, unable to leave the house and participate in life for 16 weeks of treatment. But this wasn’t my experience at all. In fact, my first chemo treatment was just me, my husband, two nurses and an IV.
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?
As the hours set in after my initial cancer diagnosis, I went from feeling disbelief to craving information. I wanted to know more. So rather than jump on the internet, since I was warned to stay away, my husband and I drove to the nearest Barnes & Noble bookstore. I purchased a few “you have cancer” books and quickly learned that any piece of literature, story, infographic or even a soundbite could bring me to tears if I wasn’t ready. Since unfortunately others have been and will be touched by cancer, below is a short list of books that provided me information without scary statistics and overwhelming tales. These delivered inspiration to move forward and take care of myself, while I let my medical and support team take care of me.