Monthly Musings from Deacon Deb – What I Learned from Breast Cancer
Breast cancer is the second leading cause of death among women. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM), an annual international health campaign organized by major breast cancer charities to increase awareness of the disease and to raise funds for research into its cause, prevention, diagnosis, treatment, and cure. The campaign also offers information and support to those affected by breast cancer.
Each year it is estimated that over 220,000 women in the United States will be diagnosed with breast cancer and more than 40,000 will die. Yet, there is good news. Breast cancer deaths have been declining since 1990 thanks to early detection, better screening, increased awareness, and new treatment options.
Chances are you know someone impacted by the disease. If so, this article is for you.
I’ll share the key things I learned as a three-time survivor of the disease. I had my first occurrence in 2001. It resulted in a complete mastectomy of the affected breast and chemotherapy. The second occurrence was in 2008 – more surgery and radiation this time. The last time was 2016. I hope sharing what I learned may help you or someone you know.
Be informed. Get the information you need to care for yourself. Take someone with you to hear the doctor’s information at the same time you hear it. My parents attended most of the diagnostic appointments with me. I have to admit, I was in no shape to process the information in the same way as others. Mom took plenteous notes and still has them today to remind me of what I was told as well as what happened and when. Another pair of ears and eyes is essential. I also researched the best surgeon, the best oncologist, and the best plastic surgeon in the area. Even though they represented three different practices in three different hospitals, I asked that they work together toward my health. It was a bit of the risk, but turned out for the best in the long run.
Hope. After the initial shock of the diagnosis, I drew upon my optimistic outlook on life. Although there is mixed research connecting a positive attitude with healing, what I know for sure is that having an optimistic outlook made the diagnosis and treatment easier to move through. Dealing with mountains of information, a wide variety of input, and the roller coaster of emotions is always difficult. Maintaining a hopeful disposition increased my capacity to cope. I credit my strong faith in God for the ability to remain hopeful.
Support network. Ask for help.This is not a time to draw upon your independent streak. Nor is it a time to feel like you are bothering others. Lean on friends, family, counselors, and more. I am blessed to have a broad support network under normal circumstances. I called upon it each time I went through breast cancer. You don’t have to, nor should you, try to go it alone. Simsbury United Methodist Church was especially helpful during this time. I am forever grateful for the kindness, caring, and generosity of my church family.
Self-care. It is vital. Eat well, rest, and exercise (to the extent you are able). Take it easy. Pause often and say “no” more than you normally would. Pushing yourself through an experience may be the norm for you. However, in this instance you need to slow down and be gentle on yourself. People will understand.
Express yourself. Allow yourself to express emotions without judging yourself. I went through a wide variety of emotions. Sometimes they would come on unexpectedly. I lost it one time when I was mowing the lawn. I began to think about my boys and the chance that I would not be around for them. I began to sob uncontrollably. The noise of the mower drowned out my crying and no one could see me. It was a tremendously freeing experience to just let myself express my fear, sadness, and anger.
Focus on what you can control… not what you can’t. I have metastatic breast cancer. This means I will get breast cancer again. It is not a matter of “if.” It is a matter of “when.” I can’t let myself worry about this every day. I focus on what I can control. I can control my attitude. I can control how I spend my time and with whom I spend it.
Share. One of the goals of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is to eradicate the stigma of breast cancer. It’s okay to tell people you have (or had) breast cancer. Hiding it is not helpful. You will never know when something you share about your experience will be helpful or give inspiration to someone else. That is why I’m sharing this with you now.
Spend time with God. Prayer and meditation in large doses are called for in times like this. Prayer is when I spoke to God. Meditation is when I listened for what God said to me. Jeremiah 29:12 ~ “Then you will call on me and come and pray to me, and I will listen to you.”
I’m sure it’s occurred to you that these lessons apply beyond breast cancer. I hope something in the article is helpful to you or someone you know.
Click here for more information and resources from the National Breast Cancer Foundation, Inc.