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 won’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 there’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 “How did you find it?” The short answer is, I found it myself. Start examining your breasts now. Even if you aren’t 35/40 and aren’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 isn’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 observant, 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.