Jessica Spencer from http://www.jessiespinkjourney.com/
It’s been almost a full year since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and since October is breast cancer awareness month, I thought I’d share what I’ve learned during my journey:
- SLOW DOWN & SMELL THE ROSES. I find myself slowing down and taking in more of the special moments. I used to be a person that rushed through everything, overbooked myself, & never really slowed down. After being diagnosed, I’ve given myself permission to say no to events that I don’t want to attend, to not overbook myself, & to sit back and enjoy life. I have a 3 & 5 year-old who are constantly asking me to play silly games, lay in bed together, or give endless kisses. Now, I say yes to it all. They aren’t young forever, and taking in these sweet moments are what keep me going. They have been a huge part of my recovery, and I strive daily to make them proud. So, slow down and enjoy the life you are fighting so hard to keep.
- MAMMOGRAMS SAVE LIVES. I can’t begin to say how incredibly important it is to get your annual mammogram. If you are under 40 and your insurance doesn’t cover the tests yet, make a point to do monthly checks. Set a mental note (heck, even put it in your calendar) to check your breasts at the beginning of every month. Self examinations and mammograms save lives, so don’t put it off. One in eight women are now diagnosed with breast cancer and it doesn’t discriminate. Be your biggest advocate.
- YOU WILL BEAT THIS. Yes, being diagnosed with cancer is the scariest thing I’ve ever had to overcome, but I also did so much research and discovered that it’s not a death sentence. There are aggressive treatment plans that will help you beat cancer. There will be several days where you are so overwhelmed, but taking it one day at a time is extremely important. You will be incredibly surprised to see how strong your body truly is.
- YOU ARE NEVER REALLY CURED FROM CANCER. Doctors call this “no sign of disease” & its a lovely thing to hear, but there will still be daily reminders of the disease. Whether it’s side effects from treatment, scars from surgery, or the mental stress of wondering if the cancer will return, learn how to start doing things that help manage the extra stresses (ie, meditation, acupuncture, exercise, support groups... these have all helped me). Again, keep up on your self exams, mammograms, doctor follow ups, and loop your doctor in if you notice any new symptoms.
- EDUCATE OTHERS. Don’t assume people understand what you are experiencing or know the answers. This is the hardest one for me. I’ve gotten my feelings hurt by so many people during my journey, and I have been shocked by the questions I’ve been asked. But when you start to think about it, how would they understand what you are going through? They aren’t in your shoes, and most of your friends or family don’t have cancer. It all comes down to educating others about your physical being, details of tests, next steps, and specifics on how you may need their support. Just because you finished radiation or chemotherapy doesn’t mean you will be back to normal the next week or even the next month. Recovery can take years, so continue to rest when you can and educate people that you may still need help. Listen to your body as you are still recovering.
- BUILD A STRONG TRIBE. Like I’ve stated before, I’m a mom to 2 young children, and there is absolutely no way I could have gotten through the past year without my tribe. It’s ok to ask for help--it isn’t a sign of weakness. For many, it’s hard to actually ask for help. But once your treatment plan in set and you have all the doctor appointments scheduled, start reaching out to your close friends, coworkers, relatives, neighbors, new friends, anyone that wants to help! This is the time to get organized and figure out what will help you the most. Do you need a meal train set up, rides to appointments, chemotherapy packages, chemo pals, gofundme account, or help with the kids? You will be shocked at who shows up for you during these difficult times and who doesn’t. The people that helped me the most were the mom’s from my daughter’s preschool. They helped with dinners, picking up my daughter from school, taking her to play dates, feeding her, taking her to birthday parties--really anything that would help relieve some stress. And the interesting thing is, I didn’t know them for a long time. Most of them I had just met 3 months ago. They barely knew me and my family, let alone owe me anything. But we all became incredibly close through this experience and I will forever be grateful for them. So don’t be afraid to ask for help as you will need it!
- START TALKING ABOUT THE EMOTIONAL SIDE OF CANCER. The physical pain is hard during treatment, but holy sh*t the emotional side is unbelievable. Yes, chemotherapy was brutal, radiation was exhausting, but after finishing treatment you can’t just wash your hands of everything and feel all better. It’s quite the opposite. The emotional side of cancer is the hardest thing I’ve ever had to overcome!! I’m back to work full time, I’m a mom/wife/daughter/sister/friend, I’m trying to get back to my normal life, and it’s all so overwhelming. The check in calls have stopped, the doctor appointments have subsided (which is awesome but also scary as no one sees you every week) and your body and mind is nowhere near fully recovered. Cancer is still what I continue to think about from the moment I wake up to the moment before I go to bed. It’s still so real and raw. The stress and anxiety of reoccurrence is what keeps me up at night. One moment I feel like I’ve got it together, and the next I want to fall to my knees with anxiety. That’s the crazy thing about stress, we don’t know how it will affect us. But I realize I can keep controlling what I can and live. Live the life that I so love.
- YOUR HAIR WILL GROW BACK - FAST. It’s hard to believe in the moment that you will have hair again. I had 8 rounds of chemotherapy so I lost my hair on my head, eyebrows, eyelashes, & pretty much all over my body. But you will be surprised that the moment treatment is over, your hair will start to grow! And enjoy every stage of growth, as I never could have imagined that I would like short hair but surprisingly, I’m loving it!
- GRATITUDE JOURNALS. Every night I write down 3 things that I’m grateful for. These items can be small or big- there are no rules. This has brought a new perspective to my life and helps me stay focused on the positive because I’ve got so very much to be thankful for!
So there you have it! A whole year wrapped up in a nice bow. Well kinda. But in all honesty, I truly believe life is about lessons and trying to find the meaning of it all. As I’m just one year into my diagnosis and now have a lifetime to beat this, I’ve continued to be grateful for my friends, my family, & my beautiful life.