Breast cancer is challenging and confusing. It causes people to stop and think, to reevaluate life. In that reevaluation time, many questions arise too.
When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I had so many questions and needed answers. I’d always heard it said that knowledge is power so I made the conscious decision to start learning any and everything I could about breast cancer. I read books, I searched the internet, I listened to stories of women who’d walked through the path I was just beginning. In my fact gathering, I became easily overwhelmed. There was so much to process. After many long hours of research, I felt I’d become an instant expert. I wanted to learn about cancer because I needed to know my enemy and how to combat it. The information gleaned was extremely helpful, but I did have to weed through the good and the bad. Some articles were inaccurate, some were speculative, and some were totally ridiculous. I was in search of factual evidence. I became a cancer sleuth. I chose to keep only information from reputable sources. Cancer websites like the National Cancer Institute, Breastcancer.org, Nationalbreastcancer.org, and others contained accurate, helpful information. Hospitals specializing in cancer treatment and research also contained valuable, trustworthy information. Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center became one of my go-to sites for good, helpful information. Every piece of information became valuable in helping me understand the treatment process and every aspect of breast cancer from beginning to end. I felt empowered knowing what to expect. Obtaining knowledge equipped me to fight a better fight.
I’ve completed treatment for the time being. In a few months, I’ll celebrate my third cancerversary. It’s hard to believe it has almost been three years since I received my diagnosis. It seems like a lifetime ago, but then it also seems like it was just yesterday. That’s one thing I found out about cancer, it has a way of warping time. But now that I’m on the “other side” of active treatment, I’m still studying. I’m still interested in keeping up with any and all cancer news. I constantly research the internet looking for advancements in treatment, for new procedures and techniques, for information on cancer trials, alternative therapies and more. I want to stay up to date in case I ever face a recurrence of breast cancer. I think it’s important to continue pursuing knowledge. The cancer research world is constantly changing and growing. Medical advancements are being made by the minute, it seems. Nothing in the world of cancer ever stands still.
But I’m not the only one on a quest for knowledge. During my diagnosis and the period of time after my treatment ended, I’ve received many, many questions from curious family and friends. Their questions ranged from generic questions to extremely personal ones. I tried to answer each and every one delicately and truthfully to the best of my ability. Not only is it important to share what we know with others, some small tidbit of information might help another person on their own cancer journey.
Some of the questions I’ve been asked were very touching, like the friends who asked these questions:
· What is the most meaningful way I could help while you’re going through treatment?
· How can I support you and your family?
· How did your family cope with your diagnosis?
Just knowing they cared and wanted to know how they could assist me, made me feel valued and loved.
These questions related more to diagnosis and treatment:
· Did you get a second or third opinion?
· Did you consider natural approaches to treatment?
· Did you ever consider giving up on treatments?
The more personal questions asked pertained to my surgery which included bilateral mastectomies:
· Prior to surgery how hard did the thoughts of returning home to your significant other after your operation with no breasts worry you?
· How has the loss of your breasts affected your husband or your relationship with him?
· Do you feel less of a woman after having had your breasts removed?
· Does it still bother you that you have no breasts?
· Knowing that men are extremely visual and very attracted to the outer appearance, does it bother you that you don’t have breasts?
· Do you feel less feminine without breasts?
· Is there a reason you did the double mastectomy instead of just doing surgery on the side that was affected?
· Did you ever consider getting breast replacements?
· Why did you choose not to have reconstructive surgery?
I was amazed at the boldness of some of my friends as they asked these types of personal questions but I understood they were just curious and wanted to understand. I answered each question with as much information as I felt the person asking the question could handle.
This last set of questions were asked by people who knew my active treatment was currently over:
· Do you still prefer attention or would you rather just be treated like nothing in your life has changed?
· What do you think helped you the most while you were going through this time?
· What did you learn that you would like to share with others?
· What is life like after recovery?
· What do I say to someone when I hear of them being diagnosed with breast cancer?
I thought all the questions were poignant and were similar to those I’d have asked if I’d never been diagnosed. While some people view their cancer journey as a very private journey, I’ve tried to be as open and honest about mine as possible. My hope in doing so is to provide others with the information they need to fight their best fight. If they find themselves having to step into breast cancer shoes, I want them to be brave enough to step forward and walk through not get stuck in the middle of a cancer quagmire.
“It is the province of knowledge to speak, and it is the privilege of wisdom to listen.”
Oliver Wendell Holmes, Sr.