While still in October, Breast Cancer Awareness month, I would like to once more urge women to get an annual mammogram. You know, the kind of appointment you might be faithful about making with your car mechanic or your dentist. However, when that mammogram leads to the discovery of a malignant tumor, there are a few things to keep in mind.
The first thing to do in any crisis is to survive the impact. Chances are that if you have been dutifully getting that annual mammogram and then “suspicious areas” turn out to be small malignancies, as I experienced years ago, you have a jump start on the problem. If you haven’t been getting those yearly exams and find you have breast cancer at any stage, the first thing to do is to forgive yourself and set about getting control of the situation. There are several text book emotional reactions that can’t be mentioned too often.
It’s OK to cry. It’s OK to experience fear. It’s OK to feel overwhelmed. It’s not OK to stay suspended in this condition. Breast Cancer, is an equal opportunity disease, so keep in mind that you are not….absolutely not….being punished. No matter how benevolent, bitchy, modest or vain you’ve been at any given time, the forces of God and/or nature are not out to get you. This is not an intellectual exercise (that’s too easy) but something that must be metabolized into your being like nourishment. Then get an advocate to accompany you when you discuss medical decisions with your physician. An advocate is not necessarily the person to whom you are the closest. It’s usually a breast cancer survivor who has her head together and considers it a privilege to put her experience, particularly her understanding, to good use. Of course, if you have experienced medical personnel in your circle, that would work very well, but I lean toward the smart lady who’s “been there, done that.” I was fortunate to have had one. In any event, it’s better not to go through this alone.
Among those who care about you (and sometimes perfect strangers) might be one or two who are certain that they know what is best for you and insist that you take their particular course of action. Well meaning, though they are, they can create unintended pressure (or just plain drive you nuts). Mainly because that in the beginning of dealing with breast cancer you are frequently confronted with all sorts of possibilities. I know that all the first decisions I made were all changed and I watched a friend go through the same process. This is one of the reasons that the steady presence of an advocate is so beneficial….and that all decisions, after discussions with your doctor, should be only yours.
What I remember when faced with two incidents of cancer in my life is that I had to put into practice what I always claimed to believe….take only one day at a time. I found myself challenged to actually live it….and I did.