There are painful moments in your life that get burned into your memory. No matter how many years go by, the mere mention of it instantly drags you back. I feel that way about each time I lost a grandparent, my aunt, an important relationship, and the day I was told that I had breast cancer. That bump in the road happened nearly three years ago, and I can still remember exactly where I was, how it felt, and how the rest of that day unfolded.
The news came as a shock, of course. When my gynecologist still felt the lump on my left breast on a follow-up visit and sent me in for an ultrasound, he calmed my fears by saying I shouldn’t worry. With my age (30), health (great), and family history with breast cancer (non-existent), it was “highly unlikely” that it would be cancer. One ultrasound and biopsy later, it turned out to be just that. Cue the devastation.Related from Vivala: Habits That Help Prevent Breast Cancer
I fell apart as soon I hung up on the doctor who broke the news. He urged me to act quickly, but honestly I couldn’t even function well enough to call oncologists. After years of writing health articles and encouraging my readers to take a proactive stance in their own health, I simply didn’t care. I needed time to fall apart first. I had never felt as mortal as I did then and still to this day, I’m acutely aware that a tumor could just pop up anywhere inside me and possibly take me out for good. It’s a morbid way to live, and I don’t let it keep me from going on with my life, but the fear sits there, under the surface, waiting to someday say, “See? I told you so.”
I never fought the battle alone. My family and friends showered me with support and encouragement. When I wanted to hide and cry, I had more shoulders than I knew what to do with. On the day of my lumpectomy, I was terrified but determined to put on a brave face. I needed to pretend that this was just some ridiculous adventure and that everything was going to be okay. My method worked until I left my mom and sister behind and shuffled into that cold operating room with a big knot in my throat. Somehow, I held it all in until I woke up on the other side in the recovery room.
My follow-up treatment consisted of 21 days of radiation, and
I’m currently on medication for three more years. While I’m grateful that I
didn’t have to lose my curls through chemotherapy, the treatment was draining. I
tried hard to not let cancer affect my life in any way and kept working
throughout my treatment, typing my stories with one hand while I healed from
the surgery. Even when my body was crying for rest from the toll caused from
radiation, I pushed through my to do lists, launched the stationery company I
had developed just before diagnosis, and made the daily commute to the clinic
every evening. I didn’t want the cancer to win.
Years later, a psychologist would tell me that I didn’t process my battle correctly. To which I replied, “I’m sorry, but what exactly is the right way to process cancer?”
The thing is there, there couldn’t possibly be a “right way” to get through this. We all do the best we can with whatever we’re given. Throughout that whole experience — even on the very day I was diagnosed — I was
a mess of tears and laughter? Yes, laughter! I needed to joke my way through
this because the very idea that I could have developed cancer so young was
beyond anything I could ever comprehend. Was I supposed to stay in bed sobbing
all day long or did I have better things to do?
I tried hard to move on. Sometimes I’ll forget myself and tell my story a bit too flippantly to someone new as if it were no big deal. So maybe I didn’t process it “correctly” or maybe I needed that attitude to serve as protection. But the truth is it touched me very deeply. No matter how much I try to distance myself from the breast cancer, it doesn’t ever truly go away. Whenever I read a story about someone who has lost his or her battle with cancer, I get that familiar lurch in my gut and think, “That could be me someday.”