We hear stories all the time about people diagnosed with cancer but when it becomes personal we’re never prepared. Somehow, we seem to think we’re different and these things happen to other people. Well I learned otherwise. Cancer is what opened up another world and changed so much about who I thought I was.
Breast cancer was totally unexpected especially as I was only 32 years old. I was busy enjoying being a mother to my two small daughters. I certainly wasn’t ready to die, although like most people diagnosed with cancer, this is what I thought.
Just hearing the words You have cancer can be a devastating experience people usually remember for the rest of their lives long after they have forgotten all the details of medical treatment and tests that followed those words.
Often people are so frightened by the word “cancer” they hear nothing else. Interestingly, hearing the diagnosis may actually be more traumatic for some, regardless of their diagnosis. That’s what having a cancer diagnosis is like – people aren’t necessarily brave or especially wonderful in what they do, they just do what they have to do to survive because there’s really no other choice.
My world soon changed to the previously unknown one of tests, surgery, and chemotherapy. Cancer treatments aim to save lives but in doing so, they often bring life-changing side-effects. I eventually found ways to make meaning of what I had been through and found myself being involved with many aspects of cancer consumer advocacy, support, training, and mentoring. I became interested in research because I believe evidence based practice is the only way we will see change and I have been able to work along-side researchers providing input from my personal experience as they develop their research projects.
Likewise, in my work at the Wesley Hospital Choices Cancer Support Centre (Choices) I help support people diagnosed with cancer from the perspective of someone who has “been there” and now with my work and through initiatives like the Women’s Wellness Programs and the Younger Women’s Wellness After Cancer Program, this support is able to continue in a very rewarding way.
I’ve survived to see my daughters grow up, get married, and have children. I have to confess I’m torn between wanting to stay young and knowing that growing older is a privilege many women still don’t have. When I was that young woman back then I really wanted to be where I am today so I do try really hard to embrace the ever increasing grey hair and consequent extra trips to the hairdresser and wrinkles and all the other things that come with age.
Over time I learned to respect cancer, not fear it. I discovered the power of the lived experience, the value of peer support, and about how I could make a difference.
I want breast cancer to go away so my daughters and grandchildren – and your children, grandchildren, sisters, mothers, friends can live without the fear of breast cancer.