When Dealing With Cancer, You Must 'Find Your Person'

I was lucky to find “my person,” when dealing with cancer: someone who was experiencing similar situations as I was, even if she was thousands of miles away.

It’s been many years since my diagnosis of breast cancer. I’ve probably forgotten more of the lessons it taught me than I can remember, and I’m not complaining one bit about that.

However, the most important lesson was also the most unexpected one. Cancer taught me to find your person: someone who has been on the same journey. No one gave me this advice; I just stumbled through and found it myself, as we often do.

I was 35 years old and “the picture of health,” according to my doctor. I was a runner with a healthy diet, rarely drank alcohol or caffeine… I could go on, but you know the story. Then, I found a lump. Surgery, chemo, radiation and reconstruction followed. It was stage 2B.

I was lucky to have support from my spouse, family and friends. I also had co-workers going through the same treatments, and they sadly welcomed me into their club.

And still I felt so alone. I couldn’t find anyone close to my age and general good health who was also a survivor. I felt like no one could relate to my sense of utter betrayal by my body.

So, I went online.

The internet was very different in 2001, long before smartphones and social media. I eventually found a breast cancer discussion board and started chatting with women from all over the world. They were living through the same isolation amid strong support systems. Their family and friends wanted to help, and they were helpful, but there was always something missing. The missing piece is what I was searching for.

A woman named Deborah in Melbourne, Australia asked me questions — lots of questions. As we talked, we discovered we had much in common. The same type of breast cancer. Diagnosed around the same time. Born three weeks apart, the same year. Married two weeks apart, the same year. We lost our mothers while in our early 20s. We kept saying, “Really? Me too!”.

At this point, the missing piece snapped into place. Someone finally understood what I was going through. As our friendship grew over the following months, someone who understood started to care how I was going through it. And I cared about her recovery just as much. After all these years, I still can’t find words to describe how important this was for my healing. It was just…everything.

Logically, this seems to make little sense. After all, I had a loving husband who supported me in all the ways. He even read my breast cancer books to learn as much as he could, though he soon quit this endeavor because it was just too scary.” No judgement, I absolutely understood because it was indeed scary. My friends and family called almost daily to ask how I was doing.

I gave the answers that would protect them from the truth, because that was in my nature. Why would I tell them the actual truth, who could stand to hear all of that? And wouldn’t it make them feel even more helpless? I simply couldn’t do that to them.

But I could do that to Deb. She wanted to hear the actual truth. “So how’s the pain today?”, she’d ask, “are those meds clogging you up, too? I swear I haven’t pooped in a month it seems!” Before I could stop laughing enough to type a response, she pinged again: “Oh, and did you fall asleep again in the parking lot after your last nuke session?”

Truth is, I never told anyone else about the extreme radiation fatigue because, of course, they would worry. Because maybe it’s not that safe to fall asleep in your car in a parking lot.

More than 20 years later, Deb still asks many questions. It’s become our inside joke. And finally, in 2015, we met in person. Until then, we had never even talked on the phone. It was the first visit to New York City for both of us. When we met with a long hug, it was as if we’d been meeting for coffee every week for decades, and we didn’t miss a beat.

Those five days were filled with the usual tourist activities. We saw a Broadway play, went to the top of the Rockefeller Center, ate in fabulous restaurants, and naturally asked each other lots of questions.

As my husband was dying of colon cancer in 2010, he told me,“Please don’t wait to visit Deb in Australia.” It’s been a while, life has offered ups and downs and pandemics, but next year I plan to do just that.

This post was written and submitted by Becky McCabe. The article reflects the views of Becky McCabe and not of CURE®. This is also not supposed to be intended as medical advice.

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