Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Dealing with A Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Below is an excerpt from my book, Cancer as a Love Story: Developing the Mindset for Living, and I share tips to help deal with the news of a breast cancer diagnosis.
The Day the Results Came In:
On May 4, 2012, the results came in while I was in a business meeting. Stepping outside to take the call, I was told I had breast cancer and more specific results would be forthcoming.
My business partner at the time did her best to distract me, which meant we continued on like nothing happened, meeting with a professional colleague hours later as planned. Talk about denial!
Then, alone at home feeling like I was on a deserted island with no rescue in sight, there was more waiting, more anxiety, and the most intense prayers of my life.
Not yet connected to the spiritual source of comfort I would later engage with on this journey, I kept asking, “Where is everybody?” Like the little girl who once felt abandoned by her mom, I got triggered by feelings of acute loneliness and was shamefully afraid to tell anyone of my cowardice.
I was frozen, numb, and in terror. Yet, I could no longer feign feeling stronger than I was in this moment by “sucking it up” as I had in the past. I was vulnerable and needed to find a way to let others know I needed them. Walls of self-protection and ego-driven pride crumbled around me. It had become my time to receive and be inner-directed—a very uncomfortable role reversal from serving as a life coach for others.
My body was exhausted. The game as I knew it was over forever. I would never be the same again. Nothing prepared me for being suspended between the familiar, stoic life I had before and a new one of uncertainties. There was no turning back, no changing the dial, and no redoing of all the stressors that contributed to my hearing those four dreadful words: You have breast cancer.
Lying in bed alone at night, I sobbed into my pillow while waiting for the next set of results that would confirm the size and stage of the tumor. This waiting felt like the cruelest penalty ever. I wanted a mommy to hold me, to cuddle in a nurturing chest and be cradled. I also longed for a partner to share this unexpected path, to look into loving, compassionate, and kind eyes and have strong, caring arms hold me. I wanted to melt and be comforted; this was too big to handle alone.
I prayed: “I am so scared. God, hear my words. My kids need me. Divorce was hard enough on them. I need to live. Please, please, please, keep me alive,” as I continued to gush tears of release into the pillow night after night.
- Pause, retreat and ground yourself before making any decisions. Turn off your cell phone, stop discussing treatment options with others, and go within and ask for guidance. Center in love versus fear.
- Trust in your body’s innate ability to heal and align with others who hold that possibility for you.
- Focus on the end result of how you want to be living your life three, five, ten and twenty years from now.
- Start meditating at least 20 minutes daily.
- Begin a spiritual practice whether it is going to church, praying, reading the Bible, A Course in Miracles, or other consciousness-raising literature or philosophy.
Telling Kids about “The C-Word:”
As an adult, you are frightened enough through the unknowns of hearing a cancer diagnosis. Imagine telling your kids. Too many children (and some adults) equate cancer with death. Cushioning the sharing of that information is critical.
I learned of my diagnosis as my daughter was studying for final exams during her junior year of college. My son was completing his freshman year of high school.
I chose to wait to tell my daughter until she returned home for the summer, and I had more specifics about my treatment plan and could explain in person. Sadly, it was our very first conversation upon her return, not the light mother-daughter lunch I had hoped to share prior to our annual manicure/pedicure summer treat. She already knew I had some tests following a mammogram, and she sensed in my phone voice a few weeks earlier that something was wrong. Like many Internet-savvy teenagers, she had already researched cancer to learn of high survival rates.
I told my son immediately, as he knew I had a doctor’s appointment and could sense I was dealing with a health issue. Honesty is important. Children sense and know the truth.
I also alerted his guidance counselor, in the event my health would affect him anyway at school. In fact, his guidance counselor was the first person outside my inner circle of friends and family to know of my health challenge. I sobbed throughout the entire conversation. Sharing a cancer diagnosis beyond my trusted personal relationships made the diagnosis feel real for the first time. Later that same morning, I called back the counselor who I have known for years and more calmly explained my situation, as well as how raw I felt sharing information which was still scary to me.
The breast clinic’s social worker helped me walk through how I would share this information with a 15-year-old boy, who I am sure wanted nothing to do with talking about breasts with his mother—never mind the fear of his mom having a life-threatening disease.
She suggested I approach my conversation from a more educational manner, discussing how preventative care is so important. After explaining to my son my diagnosis, following a routine mammogram, he responded, “I see this as just a speed bump in the road of life.” I laughed, and later that evening shed a very tender tear.
- Center in yourself, absorbing the news of your diagnosis, before sharing with your children. Then, try to see how they will perceive the information from their age and gender. Select a calm time to share, when they are not in the middle of something very important or challenging to them.
- Remember (especially if you are a single parent where bonds can be more intense), your children are your kids, not your caretakers. Although you may warrant or be appreciative of extra levels of compassion, you cannot expect your children to do the heavy emotional lifting. Let your kids be kids.
- Release your fears and anxieties by finding a support system, whether it is a good friend or a professional counselor.
May these words shared above help you as you journey with your own breast cancer diagnosis or may they help you support someone you love with theirs.