It’s October, that time of year when football teams sport bright pink apparel to raise breast cancer awareness. I’m tickled by the image of big, tough athletes wearing such a feminine color to spread the word about the importance of breast cancer screening.
Breast cancer became my reality six years ago. Cancer—that big, scary word that we hear all around us—suddenly hit home when I was diagnosed with stage 2 ductal carcinoma.
The first thing I did was to allow the overwhelming sadness. Everyone deals with bad news in his or her own way. For me, I had to just allow some time to take it in, with my family and closest friends. I shared the news with my boys, who were 12 and 14 at the time. I relied on my husband, Thom, and my twin sister, Jenn. I reached out to my buddies—not every one of them, but the ones I felt I could be vulnerable with.
Then I did my homework. The doctors will give you information and statistics, and the numbers can be overwhelming. The treatments they recommended, including chemo, radiation and tamoxifen, had recurrence rates that ranged from 13 to 30 percent. With two young kids, that wasn’t good enough for me. Over and over, I asked, ‘if I were your wife or sister, what would you advise?’ Or, ‘has anyone regretted following this path?’
I sat in what I call the “big grey cloud” for a long time. It’s a really uncomfortable place. But what I’ve learned is that if you can sit in your discomfort—really feel it and not try to stuff it or fix it—you’ll be able to move through it.
That’s what I call the art of moving on. Whether you’re dealing with a decision about where your kids should go to school, or a divorce, or breast cancer, there can be so many opinions and noise out there that you can’t hear yourself think. I have to stop long enough to acknowledge the unsettled feelings before I can get clarity. You can miss the moment if you’re not willing to sit in the grey cloud and listen to your instincts.
For me, the moment of clarity came when I was lying in bed with my boys, and my younger son said ‘Mom, do whatever will give you the best chance of this never coming back.’ That’s when I knew I had the strength to make a big decision—to get a double mastectomy. I didn’t want to live in fear that the cancer would come back. Once I made my decision, I was able to move forward. Nothing was holding me back. The uncertainty, the fear, the sadness—I had gotten rid of it all. I was clear that I was doing the best thing for me.
I feel like part of my journey has been to share the wisdom I’ve learned. I want to be there for other women—maybe that’s why I was given this challenge. (Of course there were times when I thought ‘why me?’ Especially when I never had big boobies, and I saw other women around me with much more bodacious tatas, and thought ‘how did it find me and not them??’ Now I can laugh about that!)
Whatever discomfort or fear you’re facing, listen to those you trust and then allow yourself the space to hear yourself think. Whether it’s through meditation, yoga or hiking, find your quiet place and don’t be afraid to be uncomfortable. Listen to what your body and mind are telling you. Ask yourself ‘what will allow me to be my best me?’ Feel it, and then move on.
A dear friend gave me a hand-painted ceramic starfish when I was going through this, with a note that said ‘like a starfish, you may lose a piece of yourself, but you’ll be whole again. Now six years later I feel alive and full.
If you’re stuck, find that one friend who you can confide in or reach out to the greater community of women. Ask for advice or share your wisdom here about how you’ve moved on from life’s challenges. We’re here to support each other. Shine on and be full.
In celebration of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, please join Fresh Produce in donating to help fund breast cancer research and beat this disease. If you would like to donate, please click here.