I was diagnosed with breast cancer in September 2008. For Breast Cancer Awareness month, I am sharing excerpts from an online journal I used to keep my friends and family updated throughout my treatment. Today I share with you the beginning of my journey:
Sep 20, 2008 – I have breast cancer. Every day it sinks in more and more. I don’t think I will ever get used to it and I don’t think I will ever be the same again, but I’m learning to accept it. I have invasive, ductal carcinoma in my right breast, which means it started in my milk ducts but has broken out. We wonâ€™t really know how bad it is until surgery, but I am getting several tests in the upcoming weeks to try and get more information. I have a chest MRI on Wednesday, a second opinion breast surgeon appointment on Thursday and a pelvic ultrasound on Friday to make sure I do not have ovarian cancer, since the two are linked. The following week I have a CT and bone scan just to make sure thereâ€™s nothing else going on in my body. The hope is that I do not have any lymph nodes affected and that the cancer has not left my breast.
Oct 18, 2008 – One of the most common questions I get is â€œHow did you find it?â€ The short answer is, I found it myself. Start examining your breasts now. Even if you arenâ€™t 35/40 and arenâ€™t doing regular mammograms yet, be aware of how your body is now. I recently found out a dear friend of mine was diagnosed at 23, long before she was due for a mammogram, but thankfully she found the lump herself and is now a 17 year survivor. 80% of biopsied lumps end up being benign (non-cancerous) but we must be advocates for our own health. If you feel in your gut that something isnâ€™t right, speak up and keep going back until you know exactly what is going on. The advantage (for lack of a better word) of cancers like breast and skin cancer is that we can find them early just by being observantâ€¦and they are treatable!
Notes from my 12-year survivor-self: The beginning is the most emotional, scary and overwhelming time for the person diagnosed and those closest to her. Even being referred to as a “cancer patient” for the first time knocks the wind out of you. Because of the whirlwind of emotions AND information, the best piece of advice I can give for a journey like this is use your people. My husband and parents came to all of my initial appointments and my parents were there for my husband and I throughout my entire treatment. Not only was it comforting, but it was also 3 extra set of ears to absorb all the information that was being given….and there is A LOT of information!
And because it’s so much information, and the list of things to do and schedule seems endless, my more practical advice is to have a notebook or binder dedicated to all things breast cancer. It should have a folder or two and maybe even dividers for each step in the treatment journey….surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, etc. If you can throw in a calendar and tracking log of some sort to document prescribed medicine and how often you take them, that may be helpful as well.
Adding a journal to your binder or having a separate one to write down thoughts may be very therapeutic. It definitely helped me. Reading back on it, I did not pour out too many emotions into my journaling, which is very typical of me, but that’s okay. Because even the action of documenting what I was going through was still helpful in “data dumping” and gave me a way to update a lot of my supporters at once.
Everyone’s cancer story is different. But if you find yourself here reading because you were recently diagnosed, I hope you will find comfort in knowing you are not alone.