“At least you caught it early”, “Congratulations”, “Sounds like pretty good news” these are some of the things people have said as I shared the news about being diagnosed. In the United States over ~290,000 women are diagnosed with invasive breast cancer per year. I am one of 290,000 in 2021 in our country alone, this statistic, which I looked up to write this post, is for some reason is both comforting and unsettling. Comforting to know I am not alone, but unsettling because with my early-stage positive prognosis cancer I sometimes feel like I can’t have the emotions, that I can’t feel the fear, I can’t be overwhelmed. I need to be grateful, strong, optimistic. And yes, I know I won’t die, and I know people mean well and are trying to help me see the brighter side when they say things like “sounds like good news”, I am compassionate that they are themselves processing hearing “the C word” and my name in the same sentence, but somehow the stat and those statements minimize the whirlwind that is happening in my life right now.
Because it is early – do I need to be tough? Do I have to act like this isn’t a big deal? Or can I be overwhelmed staring at the list of to-dos, doctors’ appointments, huge decisions, life logistics, and my company’s family medical leave paperwork?
Yes, I am so glad it is early, relieved that it is extremely treatable, but cancer is seemingly complex no matter what your diagnosis. Medical advancements are amazing, but add options, choices, and plot twists and my recently diagnosed fogged out brain struggles to navigate each day. Add in that I am single, live alone, and my diagnosis came the same week that the delta variant of the Covid virus surged and started taking out vaccinated people, which means I have to isolate myself to ensure I don’t get sick right before my surgery...add all this up and maybe someone might be able to understand this constant tightness in my chest.
My truth is this, early diagnosis, small stage, treatable, are all magic words. Trying to make huge life decisions, waiting on genetic tests that will tell me my life chances of getting cancer in all parts of my body, and potentially face me with the decision to remove my breasts or not. Facing the reality that children are even less likely to be part of my future, researching radiation and reading the strange side effects, facing the unknown of chemo, praying to God that it is not in my future, worrying about pregnancy management while I am on hormone blockers that damage the fetus. All of these things have muffled out the silver linings. I do come back to them each day, remind myself of how much worse this can be for many people, how lucky I am to have resources, a home, a horse, wonderful friends, a job with flexibility. There is so much privilege in my diagnosis, but yet the weight on my shoulders is still so very intense.
So yes, it is early, yes, I am one of 290,000 women diagnosed this year, yes I will live, and yes I am privileged. But I allow myself to feel, I promise myself to honor my experiences, not let anything in the outside world minimize my whirl wind. I will however continue to stand strong in my whirl wind, be a super woman, be gentle kind nurturing to my spirit and body, and take this one day at a time.