Heather, you know that the news isn’t good if I am the one calling you. Those are the words that I heard when my doctor called to tell me that I had breast cancer. That moment was like an out-of-body experience. So many things went through my mind immediately.
What if I die? What happens to my kids? My thoughts kept going to my boys – who were 2 and 6 at the time.
The diagnosis itself was terrifying – it isn’t exactly something you expect when you are 38 years old. To make things worse, my doctor was shocked by how aggressive my cancer was. In fact, all of my doctors reacted in such a way that made it clear that this particular cancer was BAD.
I had triple negative breast cancer (side note: did you know that there are different types of breast cancer, each with different characteristics, outcomes and risks? I didn’t). My Nottingham score was a 9 – if you don’t know what that means, you should look it up (hint: it is truly scary).
I was petrified. My first 10 days post-diagnosis was a whirlwind of test after test and numerous doctor meetings. I remember certain moments very clearly, but don’t remember much of it. During that period, I often felt as if I was floating in a deep fog.
My initial response was to question why this was happening. How could this be? I was too young to have cancer. I exercised regularly and watched what I ate. There was no family history or reason to suspect that breast cancer was lurking around the corner. I was living the dream: 2 kids (check), awesome husband (thankfully, check), successful job (check). I was in my prime. When would I wake up from this nightmare?
Thus began some of the worst days of my life. One would think that the call from my doctor would be the absolute worst moment. It wasn’t. That particular prize was when I had to tell my then 6-year-old son (Zachary) that I had cancer.
The first question he asked me was “Mom, are you going to die?” I couldn’t look my little boy in the eye and lie to him. He deserved better than that. Besides, he is truly wise beyond his years and would have known if I had lied to him. So I told him the truth. My answer was:
“I could die from cancer, but I plan to fight it and live. All I can promise you is that I will do everything possible to live.”
During the first few weeks post-diagnosis, all I could think about was my kids. They deserved to keep their mom and I absolutely couldn’t die. I realized then that I really am a fighter. I absolutely had to do everything possible to live.
I also realized that I hadn’t been the best mother, wife, sister, daughter, friend, etc. I was rushing through life, racing to get through each day and into the next. Often, going through the motions. Why? What good was it doing me?
My cancer diagnosis lit a fire in me – life is so very precious. Let me say that again: LIFE IS PRECIOUS. You’re likely agreeing with me here. Most people hear this and do what I used to do (nod along and agree without really understanding what it means). Do you understand that phrase also applies to you?
Take a moment and think about whether you really live your life as though it is precious. I promise you that it is.
As bad as having cancer was, my life is now better for having gone through my cancer battle. Not to say I enjoyed it. Frankly, treatment sucked. Even worse than the treatment itself: wondering if it was going to work. However, I’m now on a long-term journey that I would not otherwise be on and that I am very happy about.
I don’t believe that everything happens for a reason. But I do believe that everything that happens is an opportunity for new learning and growth.
To be quite honest, having had cancer gave me some insight and knowledge about my life and the way that I want to live that I’m frankly not certain I would have gained had I not had cancer. If that makes me an annoying glass is half-full person, so be it.
Until next time….