I have breast cancer. Now I have to tell family and friends. But before I do that, I have to figure out what to say, how to tell them, understand my state of mind. Mostly, I had to come to terms with my fear.
Fear is a funny thing. For me, I tend to deal with fear with humour, and head on. It might take me a couple of days to get there, but I’m the kind of person who wants to know rather than not know. We all make our own choices that are right for us at that time. The good thing about choices is that you can change them as more detail comes available (or not, if you so choose).
The word cancer seems to generate a reaction of over-sized fear. Especially amongst your family and friends. For me, I knew that I wanted to (and in some cases needed to) manage their fear more than my own. I have a team of knowledgeable medical experts who make sure I know all of the steps forward, including the associated risks. Trust me – I’ve now signed enough forms acknowledging those said risks that I am well aware of the by-products of each and every one of my choices.
Seven years ago I had a hip-resurfacing that was necessary due to osteoarthritis (rare in anyone under 50, but I’d had acetabular dysplasia since birth, undiagnosed until my 30s). That operation taught me a lot about fear and dealing with the reactions of my family and friends. That experience helped me prepare for this news. (I am doing awesomely well seven years later – everyone should have their hip resurfaced!)
Courage, like fear, is a funny thing. Like fear, it shows up in the strangest places, often unbidden, but generally nice to have. Courage means different things to different people, and I think it’s important to recognize it among those who are loving and supporting you. Just being able to say the word cancer counts as courage for some.
I’d been through the roller coaster of emotions of grief, denial, some anger (not much – really, what was there to be angry about, plus it’s negative energy and wouldn’t do any good). Mostly I choose to channel my efforts on the plan forward – treatment and recovery. That was my focus- what are we going to do about it, not, oh shit/woe is me I have cancer.
By now about three weeks had passed since I first found the lump, and about a week since my diagnosis. I still had a day to wait before I met my surgeon. I was rapidly learning that I was going to have to get comfortable with waiting – patience would have to be an acquired skill. It’s not waiting for waiting’s sake – part of the waiting is understanding the time it takes to do the pathology analysis, allowing your specialists to read your results, do the research on best practice for your type of cancer and then talk to you. Knowing what’s happening when helps you know when to apply ‘hurry up’ pressure and when to be patient. Don’t piss people off when you don’t need to. Respectful advocacy – you catch more flies with honey. Healthcare specialists and workers in my experience are deeply caring, passionate about their patients’ well-being and treatment, and trying to do what’s best.
I was also reminded of the old Rolling Stones song line: “you might not get what you want, but you’ll get what you need.” What I needed was to keep my eye on the prize – a course of action that would remove my cancer and preventive treatment to keep any from coming back. An old acronym from my hip operation days came back to me: ODAAAT – one day at a time.
Easier said than done