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January 12th, 2017
When I was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer at the age of 24, the initial feeling was extremely overwhelming. Cancer is for older women! Not for someone fresh out of college who’s barely had time to start their life. And then you realize that despite what you thought you knew, you have it.
Yes, I asked myself all of these questions, too. I’m here to tell you that you can (and will!) get through it all. It’s not easy; it’s going to be the ride of your life. But, if I had to do it again (by the way: no thanks, once is enough) here’s what I wish I had known:
1. Stay off Google.
Try not to turn to the internet for most of your medical questions. That’s not to say you shouldn’t be well-informed, but the internet quickly turns into a dark place with scary statistics about cancer survival. You might find outdated and simply untrue information. Everyone’s journey with this disease is different and there is no statistic that encompasses any one person. Once you’ve found a medical oncologist you love, save your questions for them. It also helps you all to be in the same loop!
2. Surround yourself with a good community.
There is nothing like commiserating with someone who knows what’s got you down. Thanks to the decade we live in, there are tons of online communities that can make great additions to friends and family while you’re going through treatment. Chatting with others about experiencing similar side effects, giggling at photos of your hair as it grows back in, or just having a place to go and vent is absolutely indispensable. I felt at home when I found these communities on Instagram, but there are many great options. This site, for one.
3. Advocate for yourself.
No one, not even someone with a medical degree, knows your own body as well as you do. If you feel that something is wrong, don’t stop until you get an answer. Not all lumps and bumps in young breasts are cancerous but it’s better to know for sure. If the first doctor you see brushes you off or doesn’t send you for a biopsy, find another that will. In the end, you have to be your own advocate and carry your own flag until you meet the right medical team who will help you to carry it.
4. Relish the good days.
There will be bad days. But there will be good days, too. I think it’s a personal choice what mood you begin your day in. My sister-in-law gave me some wall art for Christmas that reads “I think I’ll just be happy today.” It hangs beside my bed and makes my decision a little easier every morning. Sometimes, bad days slip through the cracks here and there like prickly brown weeds breaking up cement.
My last piece of advice: Don’t let them get further than that. Look around you. Maybe the sun is shining and it’s leaving a nice warmth on your skin. Or maybe it’s raining but the raindrops sliding down your glass window are really soothing. You get to choose where you put your attention.
Cancer is a long journey and the time is going to pass one way or another. If there is so much good in life, clear and visible and at the surface, why dig for the negative?
What piece of advice would you pass on to another cancer fighter? Share in the comments below or sign up here.
Photo courtesy of the author.
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