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I am the one.
The one in eight.
I am the one in eight women that will be diagnosed with breast cancer.
When I was in the radiologist’s office last November, it wasn’t yet official, but two biopsies were about to confirm it.
The doctor was so matter-of-fact as he pointed out the white spots on the mammogram images. Equally as matter-of-fact with the situation, I blurt out, “Oh well, I guess it was going to happen at some point, right?”
And, that’s what it seems like. Like almost everyone either has it or is going to. It might as well be me. It might as well be now.
It’s crazy that it chose me since these things happen to everyone else in the world—people on Facebook, TV, and in magazines.
They’re aren’t always real, but I sure am.
I certainly didn’t expect breast cancer since I take pretty good care of myself and have been a healthy person. But how can you prepare for such a thing? You don’t. All I could know for sure was this was simply for me. It just is. It is. It’s my present moment but not my future for long, only a moment.
The luckiest thing for me is that it was early stage. It’s important to note here that this isn’t something you always find on your own. Mine was caught with just the average annual mammogram and they barely even caught that, it was so well hidden in the chest wall. There was no lump, just tiny micro-calcifications that can only be seen with imaging. But, it certainly could have been a lump, or something bigger, and more progressed, had I not taken care of my health on the regular.
At Stage 0 (zero), I had non-invasive ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). That means, the malignant cells had not spread to areas beyond the infected duct. Because of this, I did not need to have chemo or radiation. My heart cannot even feel the right words to express how grateful I am that I escaped that part of this whole process. But, even though it wasn’t an advanced stage, it was still there in two cancerous areas and had to come out. The area was too large for a lumpectomy to be an option.
My fears of a mastectomy were what did me in. For three months I ruminated on the unknown. I had plenty of images in my mind of how my normal wasn’t going to be so normal anymore. It stems from memories that are still so vivid of my grandma. She wore lovely satin camisoles under her dresses and a slender padded bra stuffed with Kleenexes to fill it out because she didn’t have her breasts. She’d had a double mastectomy. It is the only way I ever remember seeing her.
For a long time as a child, the large scar that she had and the emptiness of her chest scared me. I didn’t ask her about her experience. It was just there and I was too young to understand what it all meant. No one in my family talked about it and today don’t even recall what happened since it was in the early 80s and probably even a taboo subject for her. Now, it breaks my heart knowing for sure that was incredibly hard on her.
I absolutely did not want to go through what I can only imagine Grandma Jewel went through. The technology had to have been ancient then and no options to help a woman feel some sort of normalcy before, during, and after.
Thankfully, I live in the future and the surgeons are trained beyond what I can grasp. Things are different. My surgery was different. My scars are different. Tests can be done to tell you if the breast cancer gene runs in your family, even to see if your children will have it.
What did breast cancer do to me personally?
It made me slow down, made me be present, made me get back into my meditation practice, made me stop eating unhealthily, made me listen to my body and what it needs, made me have to ask for and accept help, made me open my heart more genuinely to my close friends and family, made me not be so rigid but softer and feminine, made me have to sit in every part of what I didn’t like about myself and take all of the emotions and cry for days on end, made me become my own advocate, made me spill my guts to a fantastic therapist that can shake me out of my own head space and for real open my eyes to what I’ve been allowing in my life, made me more open to having cancer and being prepared for the ways my life was going to change, made me a different person—a different woman.
If I was going to be given my very own unique scars, then I was going to take it all, the new me, and learn from every single bit of it.
I’m learning how to own every healing moment of this process so that I can do anything. I can take care of myself, get over myself, and get over my fears. Heck, I gave myself shots in the thighs for two weeks.
I’m proud of myself.
I’ve been given a real experience here and I had better appreciate it. I’m being prepared for the next big thing with this big thing. Whether it’s good or bad, I’m ready. There is purpose in every experience, even this one. It challenged me. It worried my family. It freaked my son out. It scared my friends to death. It brought people into my life I never expected. It changed everyone in my life. That’s a bunch of people that my breast cancer affected in some way, hopefully in the positive, and I trust there are more to come.
How can my breast cancer affect you? What’s your part in this?
This is what I want from you:
>> Get a mammogram.
>> Consider it self-care.
>> Take care of you.
>> Be proactive and make your health a priority.
>> Make an appointment right now and drop me a note when you have it done. I want to know you are good.
>> Don’t take this lightly.
This hasn’t been easy.
I read and researched and studied videos and photos until I had panic attacks from the overwhelm of very sad and serious information.
I made lists and lists of questions, took notes, and got all the answers to make some of the toughest decisions of my life. I had a team of four of the most amazing doctors and caring nurse navigators I could have asked for.
I got emotional help in any way I could to get through it. Not everyone will understand or know what to say, but I found people that do, that have been there too. Connecting with Project31’s local breast cancer group, support meetings, and hundreds of women on Facebook who are going through the same crazy things and more so, with their own stages and stories was invaluable. I was never alone.
I am well. There was cancer in my body and now it’s gone and I’m going to be okay.
I am not to be considered a victim, survivor, or thriver.
If I’m going to have an identity to breast cancer at all, I am a supporter and resource for every other woman or man that has the same surreal conversation with their radiologist, and has absolutely no idea what to do or how to do it.
When you do have your mammogram and possibly find yourself to be that “1 in 8” statistic too, know that you are cared for dearly by me and you will get through this, too.