If you ask any woman on the street what disease she fears most, she will likely say breast cancer not heart disease, diabetes or something else. Wrongly or rightly, breast cancer is probably the disease that conjures up the most fear in a woman and creates feelings of anxiety over body image alterations, illness and yes, death that no woman is prepared to face.
I was no different…
Yes, you do have a cancer there, were the words calmly spoken to me over the phone on an ordinary Thursday afternoon last spring by a doctor who was not even mine. I wondered how he could deliver such news so matter-of-factly, as if he were simply telling me I had an ear infection or strep throat.
When you hear those words, they sound unbelievable. They cannot possibly pertain to you, especially if you are feeling strong, healthy and in control of your life and body. The words hang in the air as if unsure of whom they describe. You hear the words, but yet you do not. You are disconnected to them at first, unable to take ownership of their meaning. You are numb and in a state of disbelief and shock.
The words contradict the image you hold of yourself. They seem to describe some other person, certainly not you. Cancer happens to other people – older people, strangers, people who never exercise or get mammograms – just other people. Cancer happens to other families, not your own.
Initially, the diagnosis feels surreal, unfathomable and just plain impossible. You wonder if there has been some kind of mix up. The meaning of the words cannot be absorbed instantly, but rather must be allowed to seep in gradually. Once they do, you are catapulted into a reality you never thought you would face. Your life, as well as your family’s life, is forever altered.
Yes, the words you have cancer change everything.
How has hearing these words changed things for you?
Do you struggle to take ownership of them?