As I reflect on four years of “warriorhood” since being diagnosed with cancer, I wrote a letter to my younger self and others who are just receiving diagnosis.
My therapist asked me to write a letter to myself at 30 (the age I was diagnosed) and the newly diagnosed for reflection, as an act of healing, grieving and “letting go.” This is the letter I wrote, in the eyes of having breast cancer for four years (stage 4 misdiagnosis included).
To: A Life Recently Shattered,
The C-word, it happened, to you, of all people. I know life hasn’t been kind all the time, adulthood hasn’t gone according to plan, and now, this crap piled on. Where do you even begin? How do you comprehend all of it?
You’re allowed to be angry, sad, confused, shaken up, traumatized, numb, emotional, crying on and off, and wanting to scream (I screamed in my car several times, before someone came over asking if the police needed to be called). It’s going to be raw, like a band-aid ripped off an open wound. It’s OK to feel gutted and wanting to shut out the world.
I chose to take 48 hours to be angry and be all over the place emotionally. Then, I got my ducks in a row by taking action.
If you share your news at all, some responses might be, “Oh, it’s your breasts, you’re lucky,” “You get a new boob job!” “You’re strong, you’ll be fine,” “My (name of relative) had breast cancer and they are doing just great.” Those responses are not always helpful, but usually come from a person being unsure what to say to make you feel better. There isn’t a lot to actually “make you feel better” for awhile, but give these folks a little credit for trying.
I chose to share my news intimately at first, and then with the world, because it’s not in me to hide my feelings. Thank God I did share with those amazing people, as they became my biggest cheer group, “Team Sunshine” after my nickname derived from my warm smile. They comfort me with joy and love when I need it the most. Down the road, remember to help those who helped you.
A member of Team Sunshine gave me a dinosaur to eat my cancer, and I named him Rex. He came everywhere with me, and now, I have a whole collection of dinosaurs/dino-themed support in honor of Rex.
While I don’t have regrets, being an advocate for yourself is the best advice I can give. If something doesn’t sound clear, keep asking questions until it is. If a doctor isn’t listening, you can always get a second opinion. Remember, this is your body and your decisions. You have this life to live, and at the end of the day, that is what matters. If it takes four different care teams to get it right, then so be it. You’ll be so proud of yourself, and you will still be here to enjoy it.
Whatever the treatment plan is, ask what every single option is, and ask them to list it out on paper, so you have copies to look back on. I still have the piece of paper from my first consult with my plastic surgeon, and it helped clearly define what I didn't want.
Take a journal along to your medical appointments, and if you can, bring a friend/spouse/family member to help take notes. I’m on my fourth journal, and I’m so appreciative of people for taking notes, because my Dory brain (hard to remember) always fails me.
There will be bad and horrible days with treatment. Cancer isn’t good, neither is the treatment.
But, there are good days if you find the take the time to find joy. Every chemo appointment, I brought books, magazines and music, and despite chemo being crappy, I’ve been able to read a lot. Take the time to spend it on yourself — bring chapstick, fun socks, a warm blanket and make it feel like home (Cue “Feels Like Home” by Chantal Kreviazuk, AKA the amazing song in “How to Lose a Guy in 10 Days”).
Cancer isn’t pretty, and most likely it will give you scars. I have way too many to count. Don’t be afraid of the scars, but instead, look forward to how you will own them. You also have every right to cover them up if you want. I have two port scars, because my port tried to kill me. I was so upset at that surgeon, and for my radiation tattoos being my first real tattoos, so I went and got my first real chosen tattoo. I took my body back and gave the middle finger to cancer.
If you ask anyone who knew me growing up, I hated needles, and would have NEVER gotten a tattoo. Now, I want a few more to add to my “going-flat scars.”
Cancer will be a long road, sometimes feeling like there is no end. For me, there isn’t because my disease is stage 4. That was hard to grasp, and I do curse the never-ending road, mainly because it is very exhausting. I always remind myself though, that when I feel succumbed to the weight of my timeline, I search for the flame, the light and the sun peeking in. That’s the beauty about darkness — you’re never alone because there is always the light that comes.
Always remember, we’re always still fighting, which is why cancer will never win.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.