Facing the Intruder Called Cancer
Breast cancer intruded into my life on my birthday in 2004 when my mother discovered a lump in her breast. Her diagnosis came shortly after and from that day on, my life changed forever. In 2007 we were devastated to learn her cancer had metastasized to her liver. She died of metastatic breast cancer in March of 2008.
Diagnosis and treatment
In April of 2010, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and like my mother, I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation. We did not know about my mother’s BRCA+ status at the time of her initial diagnosis and I was contemplating testing at the time of my diagnosis. I was stunned, not so much by my diagnosis but by the timing, wrongly assuming I had more time.
I dealt with my diagnosis by doing what I always do when I need an outlet, I started writing. I had been in the process of writing about breast cancer and grief from a daughter’s perspective, and suddenly things changed dramatically. Suddenly I had a new cancer story to tell – mine.
Writing was how I coped then and it’s how I still cope today. Writing helped me maintain my sanity and sense of control. It still does. I started my blog, Nancy’s Point, during chemo primarily as an outlet for myself; but also with the intent of offering another resource for others, with or without cancer.
My BRCA2+ status directly impacted my course of treatment. In June 2010, I had a bilateral mastectomy, began the reconstruction process and shortly thereafter began chemotherapy. Due to my BRCA+ status, I was advised to have a bilateral salpingo oophorectomy and total hysterectomy, which I did in 2013. Presently, I am NED and taking Aromasin, one of the aromatase inhibitors, or as I refer to them, the drugs we love to hate.
What I’ve learned
The number one thing I’ve learned since my diagnosis is that you simply must become your own best advocate even if it’s hard and even if it makes you uncomfortable at times and it likely will. Don’t hesitate to stand up for yourself and never ever suffer in silence.
Advice for the newly diagnosed
My advice for the newly diagnosed would be take some time before making these huge, life-changing decisions. Processing is an important component to the cancer experience and usually there is time to think things over a bit. So slow down if you need to and ask questions over and over again until you are satisfied with the answers.
A second piece of advice would be to find support somewhere other than your family. Of course family support is vital, but try to find another outlet whether it be a support group, via reading blogs or writing your own blog, an online Facebook group, Twitter, a special friend or whatever. Another venue where you can vent, share and just be yourself is very helpful and takes some of the load off your family too.
For me, online support has literally been a sanity-saver.
On a side note, the only reason I joined Twitter was so I could take part in the Monday night #BCSM chats. I never realized back then how important my Twitter and other online friends would become to me. It was a good decision.
Today my advocacy is all about continuing to share my story and the stories of others; real faces, real stories, real truths. My advocacy work on behalf of the metastatic breast cancer community is very important to me as well. I’ve also become more vocal in voicing my opinions regarding pink ribbon culture and I try to keep up with relevant cancer news stories of the day and write about some of them as well. And of course, I advocate for those affected by hereditary cancer, BRCA+ or not.
I started blogging in order to candidly share my experiences about loss, grief, my cancer diagnosis, BRCA, reconstruction, survivorship and all aspects of a cancer diagnosis. I have always intended Nancy’s Point to be an informative, friendly, validating and empowering place for anyone impacted by cancer and loss.
Whether you’re newly diagnosed or not-so-newly diagnosed, always remember that you never have to go it alone. Thank you, @BCSMChat, for being such a wonderful and innovative online community of support for so many.
We are grateful.
Nancy Stordahl is an educator, free-lance writer, blogger at Nancy’s Point, and author of the book, Getting Past the Fear: A Guide to Help You Mentally Prepare for Chemotherapy.You’re invited to follow Nancy’s Point on Twitter, Facebook & Instagram as well.