So, You were Just Diagnosed with Breast Cancer . . .NOW WHAT?!
10 First Steps & Must Do’s As You Begin This Life Shifting Experience
1. Give Yourself Time to Process
No one is ever ready for a breast cancer diagnosis - I know I wasn’t. Refrain from searching the depths of the internet or deep diving into discussion groups - this is just not helpful right now because you do not have the full scope yet of your specific cancer, and most likely you need to do more testing.
2. Trust Your Team
A friend from highschool who had been diagnosed with breast cancer just a few months before me, reached out via social media and told me to think very carefully about THE TEAM TO SAVE MY LIFE. I remember looking at her words, and for the first time (first of many) I realized that this was something that I could die from. That many have died from before. If a physician or healthcare provider doesn’t feel like a good fit- advocate for yourself.
3. You Don’t Need To Tell Everyone, But You Can.
This is a very personal thing. Many want to keep this information in a very tight circle. I, on the other hand, decided to tell everyone. I felt called to put it out on social media (which I was a bit surprised I did) and there was so much good that came out of that. SO MANY PEOPLE reached out to support me. It was honestly quite overwhelming. In the same vein, because I knew I was going to post my diagnosis for everyone to see, I told my children the night before. The next day I was running the NYC marathon (virtually--this was 2020!) and I rationalized that they couldn’t think the diagnosis was THAT bad if they saw me going out and running 26.2 miles the next day! We (my husband and I) made sure to tell them the most salient points -that I caught it early (I did, Stage 1--no lymph node involvement) and that I would have to have surgery and treatment, but that I would be OK.
4. Get Over Asking For Help
5. Be Prepared With Your Questions
I would write my questions down beforehand and bring them to my appointments in case I forgot. I always had a lot of questions and sometimes those initial appointments are so overwhelming in and of themselves, you can forget many of the items you had on your list to bring up.
6. Remember, You Have Choices
You must pick your team and trust your doctors. But there will be choices throughout the journey. For instance, I could've had a double mastectomy and my team would have supported me. At that point, I would have had another choice between implants or DIEP procedure (grafting fat from other parts of your body) OR nothing. Many women go “flat” and are happy. Again- there is choice.
7. Stop The Internet Spiral
If I noticed that I was heading down an internet rabbit hole, I would pull myself out--or tell my husband to take me off if I wasn't able to pull myself off in 2 minutes. For as much as it is helpful to have all of the information at your fingertips--it is overwhelming and confusing and upsetting.
8. Set Boundaries
You know what you need to do to stay sane. Because cancer is so unpredictable and there is so much out of your control, I controlled the things I could. Like the conversations I was going to have, who I was going to let in and what I was going to read.
9. Be Gentle With Yourself
We are always so hard on ourselves. I remember being upset because I wasn’t healing fast enough after my lumpectomy--which is just silly. I learned that healing is a VERB and takes time. Allow yourself to have all of the feelings--they are ALL valid. I cried as we (my hubby and I) pulled into the parking lot of my radiation treatment office the first 8 sessions, and almost always after. At first, I passed judgment on myself when I did this--but I learned to be gentle with myself. I learned to see that I was doing the best that I could and that was all I could do.
10. Remember Who You Are
I would say this is the most important “must do”..
You will be poked and prodded and have many people ask you the same questions over and over again. There will be a lot of waiting, confusion and overwhelm. It will be so important to continue to come back to center - to continue to come back to YOU.
I am a runner and the only time I did not run was when I was recovering from my lumpectomy. For the month post surgery that I was healing, I walked every day. The movement not only helped with my healing, but it also helped me at a soul level. It helped me remember who I was. Then, as soon as I was cleared to run on January 1, 2021, I went out and haven’t looked back! I have laced up for my morning run, thus far, every day of this year --yes--even throughout my radiation treatment. Running is where I find myself again after the stress of the day depletes me. After about 2 miles in,I can feel ME - not that the mom dealing with a cancer diagnosis- but ME, the runner, the mom, the pediatric speech-language pathologist. Many times I cry when I get to this point, I cry because the day before was so difficult, or the emotional burden is too much to keep in, but that’s OK because by the time I am finished, I am ready to tackle the day again.
Find something that gives you this outlet and allows you to connect with yourself. Maintaining who you are outside of a cancer diagnosis will prove invaluable.