Did you know 1 out of 8 women suffer from breast cancer? Last year, I was one of those 8….On October 5th, 2018, I was diagnosed with grade 3, stage two breast cancer. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Invasive Ductal Carcinoma is a cancer that begins to grow in the milk duct and invades the fibrous or fatty tissue of the breast outside of the duct. IDC is the most common form of breast cancer, representing 80 percent of all breast cancer diagnoses. When I first heard my doctor say, ” you have cancer” I was in complete shock. I was shocked mentally, spiritually and emotionally. When I was first diagnosed, I also had trouble believing or accepting the fact that I had cancer. This is called denial. It can be helpful because it can give you time to adjust to your diagnosis. It can also give you time to feel hopeful and better about the future.
By the time my treatment began, I had accepted the fact that I had cancer and began to move forward. After my denial became a reality, I felt guilty. I blamed myself for upsetting the people I love. I worried that I was a burden. I was envious of other people’s good health and was ashamed of this feeling. I blamed myself for lifestyle choices that I thought could have led to my cancer. When I started to feel guilty, when I thought that I caused my illness, I thought of small children and their cancer. That made me realize that cancer can just happen. It wasn’t my fault. My next emotion that weighed heavily on me was anger. It’s very normal to ask, “Why me?” and be angry at the cancer. You may also feel anger or resentment towards your health care providers, your healthy friends and your loved ones. And if you’re religious, you may even feel angry with God. Anger often comes from feelings that are hard to show. If you feel angry, you don’t have to pretend that everything is okay. It’s not healthy to keep it inside you. And know that anger can be helpful, and that it may motivate you to take action. I was angry at God. ( I’m not anymore) I was also angry at myself. I was angry because I could no longer do some of the simple everyday tasks that most people take for granite, such as walk up my stairs. Or walk around the block. Or put away my laundry. Or physically play with my children. Or cook and prepare a full meal. It was frustrating. My normal routine was also disrupted. I had to find a break from homeschooling my children, to attend my doctor visits and treatments. Not only did I feel angry and frustrated, I felt helpless and as if I had no control over my life. I then felt stress and anxiety.
It’s scary to hear that you have cancer. If you’re like me, you may be afraid or worried about being in pain from treatment or the cancer itself. You may be afraid of feeling sick or looking different as a result of your treatment, taking care of your family, paying your bills or even dying. Some fears about cancer are based on stories, rumors, or wrong information. To cope with fears and worries, it often helps to be informed. Most people feel better when they learn the facts. They feel less afraid and know what to expect. Both during and after treatment, it’s normal to have stress over all the life changes you are going through. Anxiety means you have extra worry, can’t relax, and feel tense. You may notice that Your heart beats faster. You have headaches or muscle pains. You feel shaky, weak, or dizzy. You have a tight feeling in your throat and chest. You sleep too much or too little. You find it hard to concentrate. Stress can keep your body from healing as well as it should. Everything mentioned here is what I went through. For me, I asked my oncologist to prescribe me a very small dose of Ativan as needed for bedtime to help with my racing thoughts and anxiety at night. I was able to sleep better at night and most of my fatigue (from the chemo) receded by the next day. I was more clear headed during the day and was able to function a little more. As I mentioned before, I felt anger, stress, helpless, and out of control.
Although I was on an emotional roller coaster, I decided it was time for ME to take charge. I was not going to allow a single diagnosis and a scary word ruin my life. I started taking control over my own life. It helped to learn as much as I could about my cancer. The more I knew, the more in control I felt. After researching and learning as much as I could about my diagnosis, I felt a sense of hope. I learned that there are many reasons to feel hopeful. I learned that millions of people who have had cancer are alive today- and my chances of living with cancer—and living beyond it—are better now than they have ever been before. And people with cancer can lead active lives, even during treatment. One thing that helped me keep hope was to stick to goals that helped me keep hope, as they may help you. You could plan your days as you’ve always done. Don’t limit the things you like to do just because you have cancer. Look for reasons to have hope. If it helps, write them down or talk to others about them. Spend time in nature. Reflect on your religious or spiritual beliefs. Listen to stories about people with cancer who are leading active lives. I joined a cancer forum and talked to live people who experienced the same thing I was going through, while helping others with their own struggles simultaneously. My very most number one emotion I found the most difficult to come to terms with was losing my hair. I lost all of my hair during my chemotherapy. I was traumatized at the prospect of being bald. I had been pretty upset, as you can imagine about the cancer. But when I thought about losing my hair, a new wave of anguish set in, oddly more disturbing than the diagnosis. Or maybe this was my response to diagnosis, delayed. I found myself walking into portals of despair, sobbing uncontrollably off and on for an entire trimester. Only my children’s presence had the power to pull me out. The women’s Boutique in Dallas has a wonderful selections of fashion hair/ wigs for all hair types. With its private consultations and personal fitting rooms, the care team really strived to help me regain what I lost -while ensuring I am treated with the respect that I deserve. I’m aiming for normalcy. But nothing about this feels normal. I’m relentlessly exposed even when I’m covered. I’m not ready yet to go out in public, exposed. But for the sake of my children, it is becoming my goal.
In closing, I want to add this…. Physically, I got over the mastectomy, I got over the chemotherapy. I got over being bald. My hair is growing back slowly. (I’m hoping to have enough to brush by the end of the year.) I am about to have my reconstruction surgery – I know I will get over that too – As well as the scars – But you never get over it mentally – you’re just not the same. Cancer takes its worse toll on you mentally. Just from looking at your scars and just looking at the missing breasts – They’re the very thing that defines you as a woman.