It’s been one year since being I was diagnosed with breast cancer (which is not the same as being one year cancer-free – that anniversary will be next March).
Last year at this time, I had found my lump, had a mammogram, had a biopsy, and was waiting for the results over the holiday weekend. (My family doctor actually had the results on the Friday, but waited until the day after the Civic Holiday to call me andbring me in. She wanted me to enjoy the holiday weekend… but if only she’d told me – I would have preferred to know sooner rather than later.)
I remember that the diagnosis didn’t really faze me. I didn’t even feel like crying (not that there’s anything wrong with crying). I remember my doctor sitting down and saying, “I’m afraid it’s bad news,” and all I immediately wanted to know was, what happens next?
I’d been doing so much reading about breast cancer while I waited for my biopsy results, and felt like I was prepared for the worst. To be honest, deep down I was pretty sure it was cancer even before I heard the news. I remember at the biopsy, the technician and the radiologist were so intense and serious the whole time, and took many, many samples from two different sides of my large (4 cm) lump (which actually ended up being 5 invasive tumours). It felt like a very big deal.
I’ve been wondering… if I could go back in time and say anything to the me of a year ago, would I? At the time I had a very strong sense that everything would go well, and it did. But I also worried about the unknown. What would surgery be like? Would they give me a mastectomy? A double mastectomy? How long would it take to heal? Would I need chemo and radiation? What would that be like?
One thing I didn’t worry about was my cancer staging. I realize now, I just assumed we’d caught it early enough. And don’t think I’m naive – in the previous year I’d watched a dear friend bury her daughter from breast cancer, after a long and debilitating battle. One of my own grandmothers had died from breast cancer.
But my other grandmother had been a breast cancer survivor. And her daughter, my aunt. I knew many, many women who’d had breast cancer and survived. I assumed I’d be one of them.
So if I could send a message back to the me of a year ago, it would probably go something like this:
This is your future self. Today you’re going to get the news that will answer the question: Is this lump cancer?
Yes it is. You’re going to feel relieved about this – you were scared that you were asking your doctors to give you all these tests for nothing. It’s not nothing.
Thank you for seeking medical attention when you found that lump. You saved our life.
Everything’s going to be okay during the next year. In many ways, breast cancer is going to be the least of your worries.
So don’t worry. Work at managing your stress levels. Trust that life will unfold in the best possible way.
You’re going to have an amazing team during your treatment. You’re going to adore your surgeon, who’s caring, and is going to do a great job with your surgery. (And don’t worry, you’re going to get the double mastectomy you want! And you’re not going to miss your breasts one bit afterwards!)
You’ll love your radiation oncologist, although you won’t need radiation. And your medical oncology team will be great. Better still, your family doctors are going to be so supportive throughout your treatment. You’re not going to experience the nightmare that your dad did, when his secondary symptoms went unaddressed.
Chemo? Not that big a deal. And no lasting side effects.
One of your greatest discoveries will be that you have a huge network of people who will be praying for you and wishing you well.
You will also find you want to tell your story, and that sharing it will feel good.
I don’t need to tell you to savour both, because you will.
Just trust yourself more. Your instincts are good. Listen to that still, small voice more often. Do things that are healthy for yourself. Worry less. Spend even more time looking for the good that’s all around you.
Love and hugs,
Life is so good. I’m thankful to be here, to be healthy, and to be thriving physically, mentally and spiritually. Can’t ask for more than that. Thank you all for being part of my journey.