I was just 39 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Now I’m 59. I’d like to share with you some of the strategies that not only made the medical journey manageable but also turned a cancer diagnosis into a positive experience.
Believe the shock will pass
Only someone who’s been in the same situation can assure you of this – but the initial shock of the diagnosis will pass. Whether it takes a few days or a week, your whirring (or perhaps numbed) mind will return to its old self. While it does, take things easy. Stay away from work, forget the house chores. Lean on your family and friends. Don’t make more decisions than you absolutely have to. Let time pass.
Surround yourself with positive stories
Whether you get them from Breast Cancer Support or from friends (or friends of friends) who’ve been in the same boat, listen out for those positive stories. The first thing I tell anyone who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer is that since my mastectomy I’ve run three marathons and travelled the world. Good news heals – lap it up. And when you’re through your journey, make sure you encourage others.
Don’t let a diagnosis get in the way of life
Yes, you have a breast diagnosis but that doesn’t mean your medical appointments need to dominate your life. Get out the diary and schedule them in, and for every one you note down, make another enjoyable one to match it. If you’re seeing your surgeon/specialist at 1pm, be sure to meet a girlfriend for coffee the same afternoon. If you’re heading to hospital on Monday, book a table at your favourite restaurant earlier in the week.
Short breaks pack a punch
If you’re receiving cancer therapy that saps your energy, take short breaks that are close to home. A night at a B & B or a borrowed bach beside the beach is both restful and an enjoyable change of scene. If hiking is your thing, head to huts that are very close to the road or let your partner carry the tent while you don a day pack. Just because you’re receiving chemo- or radio-therapy, the fun doesn’t have to stop.
Make new friends
One of the most enjoyable things (and yes, I did say ‘enjoyable’) about having a breast cancer diagnosis, is the wonderful friends you will make along the way. Whether it’s the woman in the hospital bed beside you or the neighbour you’ve never met who suddenly pops in with a casserole, expect to discover how amazingly good, kind, funny, sympathetic and encouraging other people can be. With a breast cancer diagnosis, you enter a club where people are no longer afraid to share intimate, loving moments with you. It’s a side of life few others ever get to appreciate.
Laugh – a lot
Everyone with a cancer diagnosis experiences a degree of fear – but don’t let that stop you laughing. From my delightful cancer society visitor (a woman in her late 70s) who told me her husband had carved her first prosthesis for her from polystyrene at a time when there were none on the market, to my own trick of carrying my dog’s lead and mobile phone in my empty bra cup, I’ve laughed a lot through breast cancer. And I’m sure it’s helped the healing.