It's funny how a moment initially seen as insignificant can put you into a whirlwind and completely change your life.
On Christmas morning 2011, as I watched my kids open their presents from Santa, I had an itch, so I scratched it. I found a lump that was unmistakably different from any other lump I had ever felt in my breast.
I swallowed hard and tried distracting myself, but it was no use. I said a few curse words under my breath and tried my best to enjoy the moment in front of me—the moment overtaken by the reality that I had felt a hard, marble-like lump in my breast!
I was in panic mode. For the rest of the day and the next several weeks, I struggled to stay above the surface as I navigated through the beginning of my journey through breast cancer.
On New Year's Eve 2011, my fears were confirmed when I was told my biopsy tested positive for cancer—the "C" word. Happy #!@#%$! New Year! I was not even 40, had no genetic history of breast cancer in my family, and was healthy and relatively active. It was and sometimes still is surreal. I began the New Year with so much uncertainty and fear. I knew nothing about my cancer except that it did, indeed, lurk inside my body.
I spent the next day at a holiday gathering with some of my family. It was emotional as everyone came in, gave hugs, and said caring words.On that day I also uttered the words, “I can’t do this,” to which I was met with, “Yes, you can, you have to, and you will; you’re not alone.”
Facing cancer left me feeling like I had an individual battle to fight, but I had also never felt so much love and support in my life. The walls of my bedroom quickly became a canvas for the hundreds of cards and notes of support from my family, friends and students. They stayed there for my entire treatment and helped motivate me to get out of bed every morning. I could look at them and see all the people who were rooting for me, standing behind me and helping me navigate safely to the other side.
I had many people alongside of me on this unplanned voyage, and I considered them to be a part of my crew. They were all so important to me during my treatments, and each fulfilled a unique role in this journey.
My husband, whom I’ve grown to love on an entirely new level, came to almost every chemo treatment and doctor’s appointment with me. He was my constant and steady. I needed him more than I realized at the time. It was hard, my emotions were a mess, I wasn’t always easy to live with and he had his own emotions to deal with, but he stuck by me.
My mom and dad were there for anything I needed—food to satisfy a craving, a babysitter, visitors and, most importantly, encouragement, support, reassurance and lots and lots of hugs.
My best friend helped de-stress my day-to-day life by doing laundry, watching my kids, coordinating meals, taking daily walks, and listening to me. One of my brothers started a team for the American Cancer Society’s Relay for Life Walk. The team raised $25,000 to fight the big C, $5,000 of which came from an event organized by my other brother.
My co-workers and my children’s classmates’ mothers (whom I now proudly call my friends) made meals for my family during my treatments. My children, although unaware of their impact, helped me to carry on as normally as possible to make things right for them.
It would be impossible for me to list each individual that made this journey less lonely. I was and still am very blessed to have an abundance of love and support, as there can never be too much of it. Every card, text message, note, meal, gift, visit, phone call, prayer, thought and word of encouragement was important. They helped me get out of bed, grab the biggest bat or sword I could find and beat the big C to the ground. My heart was full. How could I not navigate successfully through these rough seas with such a crew behind me?
As I write this, it is a little more than one year later. My hair is growing in, and I am starting to regain my energy. I'm learning to live past the diagnosis and treatments.
Although the big C no longer lurks inside my body, it has left scars that are both physical and emotional. It is possible that it will return to interrupt my life again, but living in fear is not the choice I want to make; nor do I choose to give the big C that much control. I am doing my best to live in the moment as I adjust to finding my new normal, and I’m doing it with my crew cheering me on.
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The views expressed in this story are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect the views of Living Beyond Breast Cancer.