7 Tips for Getting Through Your Breast Cancer Diagnosis
When my doctor told me I had an aggressive tumor that had already spread, it didn’t seem real. Here’re my top tips for getting through a breast cancer diagnosis:
Focus on now
Cancer might take my life. I get it. But I don’t think I’m going to die today. Julia Cameron writes “The quality of life is in proportion, always, to the capacity for delight. The capacity for delight is the gift of paying attention.” This morning I watched a neighbor’s cat pad across my patio, its movements the definition of grace. A gecko climbed the side of our house, pausing to do little pushups in a sunny spot. These fleeting moments arrest my attention in ways they didn’t before. An ironic gift of cancer is that the future can be too painful to contemplate, so focusing on the present becomes easier. Right now, this moment, I choose to pay attention. And in that habit, I find joy.
When cancer came into my life, some friends disappeared. One was so uncomfortable that she literally backed away when our paths crossed. I focus on new connections, on the outpouring of support from unlikely places. Whether or not I survive this experience, I can enjoy these new, deeper connections.
Shock. Fear. Dread… feeling those emotions helped me somehow arrive at peace. I still have moments when I panic. I still wonder if I’m going to abandon my child and husband – but mostly, I have a sense of peace that eclipses anything I experienced pre-cancer. What worked for me was acknowledging my feelings. I talked about them, wrote about them, created art, and prayed. Then I focused on what I wanted, and peace came.
Keep a recovery journal
Shortly after my diagnosis, I started a new journal. Not a cancer journal – a recovery journal. I recorded thoughts, kept a lock of my hair, remembered dreams and thought through prayers. I made drawings of medical interactions, good and bad. I glued down a napkin from the restaurant I had to leave because the smell made me nauseous, and I recorded kindnesses and cruelties. It’s a tangible symbol of my journey, and it helps.
Take a nap
Triple Negative Breast Cancer wants to come back, and if it does, doctors warn it will likely be fatal. If that burden becomes too heavy, or if I just feel “cancer tired,” I do the sensible thing. I take a nap. And then I feel better.
Take what’s offered
When I got my diagnosis, a friend wanted to organize a meal delivery service, but I was uncomfortable with the idea. I hope I don’t ever get a cancer diagnosis again, but if I do, I’ll accept whatever help is offered. Lesson learned.
I believe God wants what’s good for me, and I accept the divine plan for my life. God is always with me, there in the chemo room and in the hearts and brains of people who care for me. God is with my husband and child too, and I rest in the knowledge that they will be okay.
Got a new diagnosis? I hope your treatment is easy, affordable, and peppered with joy. And I hope the lessons I learned on my journey can help you with yours.