Remembering what the fear of breast cancer felt like on the day you were diagnosed is not only necessary, but valuable.
Bonnie Annis is a breast cancer survivor, diagnosed in 2014 with stage 2b invasive ductal carcinoma with metastasis to the lymph nodes. She is an avid photographer, freelance writer/blogger, wife, mother and grandmother.
Do you remember that fateful day when you first heard the words, “You have cancer”? I do. I’ll never forget that day. It was a day filled with fear, confusion, shock and anger. It took a while to accept what I was hearing. I didn’t want to believe it. Surely there must have been a mistake. I didn’t want to die, but I’d been handed a death sentence, or so I thought.
Almost three years have passed since my diagnosis and I never want to forget how I felt that day. I want to always remember how I sat In the oncologist’s office trembling and hearing his words like Charlie Brown heard his teacher in those famous Peanuts cartoons, “WAH WAH WAH WA WA WAH WAH.” I could hear him talking but nothing made sense. I was glad my daughter had come along with me on that visit to take notes. Her willingness to do so allowed me to feel the fear of cancer, to know exactly how others had felt before me. I realized, even in my shock, I wasn’t alone. There were many who’d gone before me and many who’d come after me.
Being able to remember that fear like it was yesterday has helped me to be compassionate and understanding toward the newly diagnosed. Women I’ve never met have contacted me and asked questions. They were able to find me via CURE Magazine or my blog and I’ve felt the fear all over again as I’ve talked to or corresponded with these ladies.
What a blessing it’s been to listen as they share their concerns. What an honor it is to help them understand their reports. I remember when I received a copy of mine. I had no idea what ER+, PR+, HER2- meant. I had no clue what the various grades of breast cancer meant. I didn’t understand tumor grades. I was clueless. And when you understand how it feels to be clueless, you can empathize with others. You don’t laugh when they want to know if they’re going to die.
The impact of a breast cancer diagnosis feels overwhelming, but the key to tackling it is to take it one tiny step at a time. Usually the newly diagnosed person has no idea where to start and that’s when seasoned survivors need to step up. If each of us would take the time to take a newbie under our wing, facing the challenge of cancer would be much easier for them.
It doesn’t matter if it’s been a few months or a few years since you went through your own cancer journey. If you’re still living, you have advice to offer and they want to hear it. There are questions only a survivor can answer. Newbies want to know the truth. They don’t want things sugar coated. When they ask questions, we can answer with personal knowledge. Our answers will help guide them in making those difficult decisions that lie before them. Of course, they must listen carefully to what their medical team advises, and no advice should usurp a trained professional but we can help because we’ve been there. We’ve huddled in the trenches and have fought the good fight.
Perhaps you had someone to help you as you began your breast cancer journey. If you did, you were lucky. Most women who begin their trek into the unknown do it alone or possibly with the help of a loved one. The newly diagnosed person has no clue where to begin, but there are valuable resources everywhere. Countless support groups and programs dot every city in our country and most of them are staffed by cancer survivors. The bottom line is that we need to remember. I know that’s hard for a lot of people because it would be so much easier to forget that terrible, awful, very bad day. No one really wants to remember the day they were told they had cancer, but in order to understand and help others, we must.
As a survivor, I feel it’s my duty to be there for the newly diagnosed person who crosses my path. If I can help in any way, I want to do it. If I can save them one ounce of unnecessary pain, I will have fulfilled my goal. I’d rather offer too much information than keep all my experiences to myself. And isn’t that what part of the journey is about anyway? Shouldn’t we want to make it easier for someone else?
We all start out as breast cancer dummies. We only know what we’ve heard or read unless we’ve had a personal brush with cancer through the life of someone close to us. When you’re diagnosed with cancer, your entire life changes forever. The great unknown is scary but with the help of someone who’s been there, it’s easier to face. We have valuable tools to pass on to the newbie and we should equip them to fight their best fight.
Never forget how you felt on the day you were diagnosed. It was a terrible, horrible, rotten, stinking feeling but it was necessary to make you want to fight. Let’s gift others with their own battle gear by sharing what we know. It’s our duty. We are survivors and we want them to be, too.