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Breast Cancer: Stuff They Never Tell You

Survivors are part of a sisterhood, whether they choose to be or not. And sharing stories—funny, sad, ironic—is what sisters do best.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2007.

Hearing the words, "I'm sorry, but it's cancer," comes as a shock to anyone, and I never thought I would hear them that day.

I was in my mid-40s, a marathon runner, healthy eater, non-smoker, no family history. The only real risk factor I had was giving birth to my first child after age 30.

I cried (hysterically), I went for a long run the next morning, I got a second opinion, I told only a handful of people and I went about my busy life trying not to think about it.

I made a list of other women I knew who had fought—or were fighting—this awful disease. In a few moments, I came up with more than 15 names of women in my community, most of whom were right around my age. Clearly, I was not alone. If I made that list today it would be at least twice as long.

As a journalist I have an ability to reach an audience greater than just my personal circle of friends. I thought then about how I could have an impact on this new "sisterhood," and those who would (unfortunately) join it in the future.

In the past five years I've helped publish numerous articles, written about my own experiences, promoted early detection, attended and written about mammogram parties, and have willingly been interviewed by several area TV stations.

When I interviewed Barbara Delinsky last year regarding the release of her 10th anniversary edition of "Uplift: Secrets from the Sisterhood of Breast Cancer Survivors," I realized that indeed I was part of that sisterhood.

There is so much more I could say—and write—about the experience of being diagnosed and treated. I could write about running the Race for the Cure just six weeks after my lumpectomy, or running the National Marathon to Fight Breast Cancer just 11 months after my diagnosis.

I could also talk about the things they never tell you: that the radioactive/blue dye cocktail that's injected as part of a sentinel node biopsy (performed along with a lumpectomy) turns your urine blue for the next day or two and sets off the security alarm going in and out of the drug store when you are just trying to pick up your painkillers.

Or, that getting radiation also involves getting a few tatoos. And getting marked up by Sharpies. If I had known, I would not have worn my brand new white shirt that day!

Most of what I'd like to say is if you hear those dreaded words – face it fighting. When you're diagnosed you have a disease. The best thing you can do is fight it, the best way you know how.

Talk about it if you can, and share your story. If you help just one person get an early diagnosis, you will have had an incredible impact on another's life.

Walk for the cure. Run for the cure. Support your friends and neighbors.

I ran home from the hospital after one of my radiation treatments. Just because my doctor said he never knew of anyone else doing that before, and because it was one of the ways I chose to face (spit in the face of) this disease.

A few weeks ago I modeled with other survivors in a fashion show that was part of a "Pink Party" fundraiser for Komen Connecticut. I'll have to say I was a little bit nervous about strutting across the stage in dangerously high heels and wiping out in front of a much larger crowd than I had expected.

"Who cares. This is our night. This is celebrating what we have all gone through," said one of the other models/survivors. She was right. Sharing that experience with those other women was so empowering.

I didn't want to join this sisterhood. But I am proud to call all of these women my "sisters."

SHARE: What is your story? What is something you experienced or learned about breast cancer that people don't normally talk about?

MDS November 01, 2012 at 03:22 AM
Yes, I was diagnosed in 2006 with DCIS - Stage Zero - breast cancer. The biopsy was a bit strange - laying there with my left breast hanging through a hole on the examining table. I have never been the same after 36 radiation sessions. The post-radiation drugs were bad news for me. One made me an emotional wreck. I never cried about my condition. When people said that I was "lucky," I wanted to slap them. But I now accept that I am lucky. Looking back I wish that I had cried. I wish that I had not withdrawn from the world, in particular from my son. But feeling numb felt good.
Vanessa Castañeda November 01, 2012 at 04:36 PM
36 radiation sessions. Ouch. I would want to be numb for that too. I've watched a few of my family members battle cancer. It's an emotional roller coaster. I saw some of them have very profound realizations about their lives and go on to alter the way they exist. Others floundered in a flood of self pity, and shut down from the world. That cousin cried a lot. She isn't around anymore. I think she gave up. Maybe your numbness was one of the reasons you are still here today.

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