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Straight talk & 'survivor' status

Let’s talk about cancer.

As chance might have it, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I just happen to be a Breast Cancer Survivor.

First learning of this new path I would journey down in April of 2020, the battle of Stage 3, Triple Negative Breast Cancer was an intense one. Eighteen months, an aggressive treatment plan and three surgeries later I am happy to say I am cancer free.

I shared a bit of my journey in our last October issue of the 209 Magazine, as well as lessons learned along the way. Since that time however, there are varying things I’ve learned through this journey, which I find equally valuable to share as those shared previously.

Hearing the words “it’s cancer” have a significant impact on not just the patient but those close to them as well. Through my journey I relied (still do) on a very strong tribe, as well as the love and support of my partner, children and our families. Love, laughter and support proved to be just as critical to my health as the prescribed treatment plan.

An important fact, which I think needs more attention is the love and support needed for the loved ones as they walk the path with the patient up close and personal. Now granted, it did not help that we walked this journey during the time of a worldwide pandemic; that presented its own challenges.

For the most part when seen by friends and family, I looked “good” or “well.” My “nurses” however knew different. All days were not good days, some more mentally tough than physically and they held me up all the way. 

Looking back what I realize is how much they needed people. While the attention tends to go to the patient, the nurses of the house are the true quiet warriors. They need the ears of those who love and care about them, they need the shoulders for those moments of uncertainty and fear and yes, even those moments of relief. 

The cancer path can be an emotional roller coaster you’re not properly prepared for. In the words of my radiation oncologist, often times things happen so fast for the families they don’t even completely recognize what they’re battling until well into treatment. For me, this held much truth.

Upon hearing the results of my most recent Pet Scan and learning we could indeed say “Cancer free,” I asked both of my children what the hardest part was of mom having cancer. 

My daughter (now 14) openly shared how upsetting it was for her the first time she saw me weak. A moment during my treatment when a blood transfusion was needed as my hemoglobin had fallen dangerously low. Seeing mom unable to get out of bed, in need of her care for a change, well; that hits hard.

This brings me to the new “unknown” until you walk the path. Coming out on the other side of cancer treatment does something to you. For me personally, I’m not the same and that’s been a struggle. While for the most part my smile continues, my optimism remains and my gratitude more on fire than ever – there remained an underlying anger. Self-awareness and good honest talk is probably one of the best things to walk one through this.

Over and over I can recall saying to those I confide in, no one talks about the “after.” No one talks about the guilt one feels when you hear someone was not as lucky to hear “Cancer free” or perhaps they do, only later to succumb to the disease when it returns months later. No one talks about the range of emotions and the effects of the physical changes.

As the patient, you focus on the job at hand; the battle as so many choose to say. Personally I thought of the “fight” as business. As I would repeatedly tell those I love as well as my medical team, I was in the business of saving my life, but no one prepared me for how lost I would be once that calendar was no longer filled with treatments, lab tests, surgeries, doctor visits and rest days.

Shortly following my final surgery I told my partner quite frankly I’d forgotten how to do me, how to live the life that I had loved so much. Now healing from a surgery with cancer-free results, I was lost. There’s also the fear, famous other shoe one wonders if will ever drop.

So here’s the point of all of this.

Perhaps you’re not a patient, maybe your simply a co-worker, friend of a friend, you name it. Be there for your people – all the people. Surround them with love, laughs and buckets of patience. Everyone’s journey is different yet the words are the same, yield to the emotions, be present in the moments the support team might need you and remember while the patient may have good news; they may also be still emotionally fragile.

In the big picture, I am well and over the moon grateful, but man it’s not been easy. My prayer is that I remain blessed with good health and my children never have to walk this path again. We’re in the rebuild phase of cancer now. Rebuilding my body, my mind and my soul and quite simply getting to know myself and this amazing life on the other side of disease.