On June 5, 2014 my family’s world was rocked by the news that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. At just 37 years old and a mom to an almost three year old, this seemed completely unfathomable. In some ways it still doesn’t totally seem real. Cancer isn’t supposed to happen to a young, healthy mom like me. But that’s the thing. It does happen. It is estimated that there are more than 250,000 women aged 40 or younger diagnosed with breast cancer living in the U.S. today. More than 13,000 young women will be diagnosed this year.
I am excited to share that after six rounds of chemotherapy, a double mastectomy, and 28 radiation treatments, my breast cancer is in full remission. I still have a long journey ahead of me, with immunotherapy, estrogen therapy, and reconstruction in my future. Not to mention the difficult work of processing the emotional and spiritual toll that this whole experience has taken on me and my family.
That’s one of the toughest parts about being diagnosed with a life threatening disease – the sheer number of decisions and choices you must make in a very short time without the ability to measure the emotional impact that this is all having. There were so many times that I just wished that I had a fairy godmother to make it all go away, or to at least make all the decisions on my behalf. Unfortunately, my life isn’t quite a fairy tale, and it was up to me and those I trusted to figure out how we were going to beat this thing.
It’s not just a cancer diagnosis that can throw your world upside down. It could be that you or a loved one are dealing with a different long-term or terminal illness, the end of a marriage, difficulties with fertility, the death of a parent or any number of life-changing situations. It can be difficult to know what to say to someone going through a difficult time or even what to say to yourself in those lonely moments. Here are a few pieces of helpful advice I received that bear repeating to someone who may need comfort while navigating a life-altering journey.
- In this moment, you are alright. You are not just going to be okay. You are okay.
- Your feelings are your feelings. They are alright too. Feel them authentically and let them pass through you. Now is not the time for bottling them up.
- Not everyone in your life will be able to handle your situation or be there for you in the ways you’d like. While this may hurt, focus on the people that can be there for you. Don’t spend any energy on those who can’t. They probably have their own stuff that they are dealing with and that’s okay.
- You are strong, beautiful, and perfectly capable of handling any tough situation that is thrown your way. You are making decisions that, while difficult, will help ensure that you are able to move forward and grow into a strong, focused woman who is going to do amazing things with your life.
- There are so many people who love you and look up to you (especially your kids)! Count me on that list. Please call me, text me, or come to my house ANYTIME. No questions asked. You and your feelings are always safe with me and at our home.
- Trust your gut and take actions that honor yourself. This experience does not define who you are. You are not your disease. You are not your divorce. You are not your decisions.
- Your feelings are completely valid, but remember that not everyone can handle them. Keep your heart safe and share your sadness, grief and truth only with those who are going to help you heal. Don’t share with anyone you feel the need to justify yourself to.
- Everyone has a right to their opinion. Your parents, your siblings, your spouse, your friends, etc. That said, you are under no obligation to listen to, validate or believe anything that they/we have to say.
- This experience has the potential to help you become a more empathetic, compassionate person both to yourself and to all you meet. (This one can be tough to accept when you are in the thick of your situation, but remembering that there is some kind of silver lining or learning to be had, at least means that this experience will mean something one day.) It won’t be for nothing.
- In the darkest moments, remember that you are completely capable of moving through this. Even if it is one simple step, (taking a shower, for instance) take it. And then take another step and then another. Pretty soon you’ll be on the other side.
There is no RIGHT way to deal with the difficult situations that life seems to throw at us. All I can say is do your best, reach out for support when you need it, show yourself some grace and follow your gut.
And if by chance you do come across that fairy godmother, please do send her my way.