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January 3, 2016
Attached is a personal anecdote written by our family friend who has shared her experience with us.
It was almost two dozen times. Almost two dozen times I had called my husband letting out a big sigh and saying breast cancer was not going to devastate our lives for at least another six months. Since my sister got breast cancer in her mid 40s, when I was in my late 30s, every six months I had either had a mammogram or an MRI. Almost two dozen times I had gone to the large waiting room and had felt terrified to be one of “those” women – the ones with the head coverings or wigs or were bald – the markers of chemo - there was such a range – from some who looked so ill, gray, fragile and forlorn to others who were loquacious and looked strong and as if they were taking the world by storm. But I was on the other side and scared to be on their side. This time I could not let out the sigh. This time I told my husband about the sonogram and biopsy after the mammogram. I wasn’t even sure whether I should tell him. How do you tell someone you love that our lives together were about to implode? Part of me did not even think I was talking about myself, but the other part sobbed – after I had gotten off the phone and passed through the waiting room and knew I was going to join the club no one wants to be a member of.
Long story short, thank goodness my sister is well a dozen years after her diagnosis. Thank goodness it has been almost one year since that mammogram and I am past surgery and chemotherapy and I am surprised by how well I am feeling. I know that it sounds cliché, but I look back on this year and it was often the “small” daily acts of others that made a difference in helping me keep my spirits up and in my recovery. I know others tried not to look at me differently, but I knew I was one of “those” women now. In many ways, losing my hair was less of a big deal to me than others around me. As I have often heard other women say it can feel the least of the issues, but it hurt to feel like I could not hide the big screaming “C” for cancer my head revealed and that no one looked at me quite the same. I splurged on a beautiful wig, but as I had heard others often felt, I found I did not like to wear it. It helped when I had a scarf or a cap that helped me to feel as if I could look less “ill” or maybe, something such as tie-dyed one, I could laugh about with others and tell some stories I might not have shared otherwise. I could not believe the outpouring from family and friends, but also from “strangers.” I was coached by my treatment team to learn to not feel guilty and just say “thank you” when people brought meals, or gave me a handmade crocheted shawl because the chemo suite can be chilly, or a special pack of helpful items to have in the hospital with a handwritten note.
When staring mortality in the face, experiencing warm, connected humanity is very moving. When Eve asked what she could do to help, I thought about the variety of head coverings I drew on and the many meanings they had during my journey. Wearing one that represents the kindness of a “stranger” would be deeply meaningful. Her efforts, and the ones of those who join her, will make more of a difference than might be imagined. -Breast Cancer Survivor in Year