My cancer journey has brought with it many lessons. Now that I’m on the other side of it (just barely, though), I can see some themes. One big theme is letting go of control. When you’re going through cancer treatment, you relinquish all control to your health care team. You don’t know what will happen. You just hope for the best and keep putting one foot in front of the other. Another theme is softening a little bit and learning to take help when you need it. And a third major theme is the importance of connection and community.
Finding out that I had breast cancer in May 2021 was a stressful process. It comes back to that idea of control – and the horror of discovering you have no control when it comes to your own health. During my initial mammogram last spring, I had this intuitive feeling that something wasn’t right. Sure enough, I got a call within a couple of days telling me to have an ultrasound done. That appointment led to me getting a biopsy, and then I was called in to meet with my family doctor. At every appointment and test, I felt so anxious. It’s the not knowing that’s the worst part – the uncertainty and the lack of control. Within just a few weeks, I was hearing the dreaded word “cancer” and meeting with a surgeon. But once I met with the surgeon and then my oncology team, at least we had a plan.
I had a lumpectomy and then radiation and chemotherapy. It was really tough. All these little things that we take for granted – going for a walk, climbing the stairs, making the bed in the morning – became a struggle. I just didn’t have the energy to do a lot, but I felt that I should be doing more. The holiday season was approaching, and there were so many things I wanted to do but physically couldn’t. I’m an avid baker and cook, and there’s no time like the holidays for baking up a storm – but I just wasn’t able to, and that was tough to come to terms with. Whether it was grocery shopping, cooking dinner, doing the laundry, vacuuming, walking our puppy, or even getting in and out of the bathtub, I suddenly needed help with all of these simple everyday things. I had to learn to listen to my body and slow down, and to let people help me – mostly my husband and my two adult children. I had a hard time with this, but it was a valuable lesson. We can’t do this alone. For anyone else going through cancer treatment, I advise you to take the help when you need it. Try not to put on a brave face.
Connection and community also helped me through my treatment. Leaning on my family was huge, and so was connecting with other people who were going through the same journey as me. This gave me a sense of community. The Look Good Feel Better program, chat forums, therapy, and my medical team all helped me feel supported and less alone on my journey.
Now that my treatment is finished and I’m settling into a new routine – including taking a hormone blocker, which I’ll be on for the next 5 to 10 years – I’m leaving behind the physical challenges and starting to deal more with the mental and emotional side of things. I’m doing meditation and visualization, reflecting on my lessons learned, and figuring out where I want to go and what I want to do now that the treatment has ended. And throughout it all, I’m trying to stay soft, to accept help when it’s offered, and to embrace the power of community.