If I could offer only one tip to someone who had just been diagnosed with cancer, it would be to find a way to connect with other survivors. That has hands down been the most instrumental key to getting through this without losing my mind completely.
To boil it down simply, no one else understands.
I mean that with so much respect for the rest of the people in my life. We all know someone with cancer, few have even carried someone through a battle with cancer, others have lost someone to cancer, some are health care professionals. Each have a varying, and sometimes intimate, understanding of what you are going through and play a very important role in your support system. Still, no matter how close you were, unless you have been diagnosed with cancer, you do not truly get it.
I say this as much for those who have been or will be diagnosed as I do for those who love them. It is important to push your loved ones to find other people who have lived this. You just can’t provide them that angle of support and it’s so, so important.
When I was diagnosed, I did some reading online and found very few young women sharing a first person account. Then I launched this blog and started posting on social media. It was through hashtags on Instagram that I became connected with Anna Crollman who runs My Cancer Chic. We realized we lived close to one another and decided to meet for coffee.
In those two hours, I gained so much relief. We talked about the things people say and how they impact you emotionally (“At least you got a free boob job out of it!”). We analyzed the toughness of the tissue expanders and the challenges that come with removing and rebuilding part of your body. We covered the guilt of not being 100% and how that impacts your relationships.
In two hours, our discussion got more personal than I had talked with people I have known for decades. She and other survivors have helped me realize the anxiety and depression I battle isn’t just me - almost all of us battle that. It’s just a different level of understanding and depth of communication. You never have to worry about making one of the other survivors uncomfortable, they just get it. As my Aunt Sue told me when I was diagnosed, “What did you want to join this club for?” And it’s absolutely this crappy club you never wanted to join but once you find the others, you realize you are not alone and you have unlocked this amazing network full of good.
Anna runs one of the Face 2 Face Networks for the Young Survival Coalition. She pulls together monthly meetings designed to help young women face breast cancer together. I try to get to the meetings as often as possible because every time I connect with these women, I leave feeling so energized and refreshed. It’s truly therapy for me, much like writing this blog. It’s the same way I feel about the time I spend working with Komen.
In the last few months people I know have connected me to other young women recently diagnosed and I am so glad to have this network continue to grow - though I would be even more glad if it suddenly stopped growing and we found a way to end this disease. In the meantime, I will keep connecting and encouraging others to do the same. It truly impacts my mental health - and no one should go through this without the support of a fellow survivor.
If you know someone who has been diagnosed, please never hesitate to send them my information.
To all my survivor sisters, thank you for being you. I would be lost without your love and support. Keep kicking butt and taking names. We are all badasses. And to the rest of my tribe, thanks for understanding that I will never really be done with this. I am forever changed and always adjusting to the new normal. I appreciate you supporting me in that effort.