I won’t start off by candy coating all this, because this has been hard. It never gets better but you get better. These are the 10 ways I got better looking back at the 10 years since I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Diagnosed 2010, age 27, stage I, Her2+ ER+ Invasive Ductal Carcinoma
1.It’s Never Over
I, by no means, mean to kick this off with a bit of doom and gloom because that is not what this is about. But once I received my cancer diagnosis, I thought it would be a blip on the radar. I thought I would get through treatment, be “okay,” and go on about my life. I never expected the long-term side effects.
The continued medications and procedures. The aches and pains that would lead to a scan.Or that every day I would think (at least once) about my breast cancer diagnosis.
In 10 years, I have learned skills on how to cope with this. You (and “it”) does get better with time. Don’t be hard on yourself and be prepared to take it one day at a time.
2. That “Light at the End of the Tunnel” Seems to Always be at the Same Brightness
I feel like I heard this so much I believed it — “Don’t worry, there is a light at the end of the tunnel.” I know at my point of diagnosis the light was dim, like the size of the tip of a needle, a candle stick at the end of a hallway where the softest breeze would snuff it out.
I felt like it would eventually shine as bright as a stage spotlight, because hey, if there is a light at the end of the tunnel, as I get closer to it, it must get brighter. I’ve learned that although there is still a light, at times it still feels fairly far away from reach. But that is okay. The light dims and brightens but I am still in the tunnel and always walking towards it.
3. Do Only the Things That Bring You Joy
I cannot stress this enough. If there is something in your life that brings you stress, YOU MUST REMOVE IT. Think of it this way, it could save your life. Stress is a leading factor in cancer diagnoses.
If you are surrounding yourself with negativity or living with the constant feelings of unhappiness, the effort to fix it is required for your wellbeing. That brings me to my next point.
4. Clean Out the Closet, Remove the Clutter in Your Life
This is not intended literally, but if you have clutter in life, it can be friends, it can be loved ones, it can even be family: Remove it!
This is the hardest part. Some of these issues worked themselves out organically for me. The toxic relationships in my life needed to go, because they didn’t bring me joy. I actually received the BEST ADVICE EVER when I was first diagnosed. I was empowered to know that this was my fight to fight as I see fit.
This gave me the strength to weed out the bad in my life, and focus only on the positive. It was what I needed to hear at that time, so this is me giving YOU that permission. Do you. You are the only one that matters in this wild ride called cancer.
5. Stop and Smell the Roses
My eyes were opened at age 27. The sky seemed bluer. The air fresher. The little things that I never paid attention to now meant more to me than what I could have ever imagined. I realized that my problem, the big C, was so far away from everything my friends were facing in my life.
I realized that all that petty bullsh*t meant literally nothing in the scheme of things. I wanted to slow down and appreciate the little things in life, because those are the things that add up to give you hope.
6. Celery Doesn’t Cure Breast Cancer
OH my … oh my … the number of recommendations that will come from friends (and strangers) will blow your mind. Here is what I’ve learned, a healthy lifestyle lays a foundation, exercise keeps you strong, and keeping your mind positive helps you prepare for attack. You need these things to prepare for the fight of your life. Celery may be healthy — and yummy, but doesn’t make it all go away.
7. Welcome to the Best/Worst Club Ever
I never wanted to be a member of the cancer club. When I was diagnosed, I didn’t even know there was a “club” because I didn’t get the chance to meet anyone as young as I was.
But now, I get it. It really is the worst club to be a part of with the BEST people. Those you will meet along the way will be more than just your friends, more than just your family. They are somewhat a part of me, my story, and my life. And I am lucky to have loved and lost as much as I have.
8. There is No “Good Cancer”
Breast cancer? That’s the good cancer. Wrong. There is no “good” cancer. All cancer sucks. Every cancer is different in every person. Breast cancer still affects one in eight women, men too. One in three will metastasize after a diagnosis.
Why people think breast cancer is good or somehow those of us diagnosed are “lucky” is just the reflection of bad information and marketing of the disease. We have a long way to go before we can say any cancer is a good cancer to have. I hope I get to see that day come, but until then, let’s support one another along this road.
9. Strap in, This Rollercoaster is the Ride of Your Lifetime
I have experienced the highest of the highs and the lowest of the lows since my diagnosis and I would not take a single one of them back. When you find your pack, you will love them hard. You will laugh harder, and you will cry.
I found as a young breast cancer patient, that we may have more aggressive cancers than our older counterparts. I have gotten to live alongside many friends that are living life checking off their bucket lists. Some are experiencing the roller coaster right about to hit the loop de loop, and others are experiencing what happens at the end — the screeching halt when the ride is over.
That is the feeling of the loss of those friends, but you can’t get off because you are on the same ride yourself.
10. Don’t Give Up — The Work is Never Done
Awareness, advocacy, activism is a calling, a passion, a purpose. Not everyone has to dive in to help fight for what’s right and support the “cause.” And that is okay. But if you want to help, if you want to support, and if you want to get out there and make a difference, you MUST.
I have actually seen change in breast cancer treatment and care in the last 10 years, and I am honored to get to say that. I am proud to be a part of the movement. I am thankful to have met some of those that started the movement themselves to carry their voices with me. But what we must require out of all of ourselves is that we don’t stop working.
Stage 4 breast cancer continues to take the lives of one third of those diagnosed with the disease. If we can fight for Stage 4 research, we all will benefit. Early stagers, those with genetic mutations, late-stage diagnosis, this work may not impact our life today, but WILL impact the lives of those that follow behind us.
Cancer sucks but that doesn’t mean life has to. I am generally a glass half-full kind of person. I choose positivity, I choose love, I choose happiness. The positive outlook I have on life comes from my cancer diagnosis, I love myself and those around me more and more every day, and I can say I will also choose to laugh over crying.
Be kind to yourself, this road is paved by the steps you take on it, you are the work. Love it. Live it. Be it.