Before you begin, I want to stress that typically I discuss business-related concepts. I'm a firm believer that we cannot separate the employee from the person. When the person is experiencing issues whether at work or at home, it will have an impact on the workplace. "Leave it at the door" is an unrealistic expectation. The better we get about creating a safe and open dialogue about events happening in people's lives, the better we will be at providing proper support and resources which will create an environment with high employee morale and productivity. -Jill
You turn 40 and your OB/GYN says it's time to start your annual mammograms. Because you have no family history of breast cancer and are very healthy in general, you schedule the appointment without fear. The first mammogram isn't nearly as painful as the horror stories shared by previous generations of women. You go home and think nothing of it. Then the doctor's office calls and says they saw some abnormalities on the mammogram and would like you to come back for a second mammogram. They reassure you that because this was your first mammogram, and they don't have a baseline for you, that it is perfectly normal to be called back.
You go in for the second mammogram, this time with a little more apprehension. That ease and nonchalance from the first mammogram has been replaced with hesitancy and concern. Everyone reassures you that this is normal and you'll be fine. After the mammogram, the tech suggests that you speak with the radiologist on staff. He shows you his computer screen, circles a few white dots and says you have some calcifications in your breast. These calcifications are probably fine but he'd like to schedule a biopsy to make sure it's nothing more serious. Down the spiral you go.
You schedule your biopsy and try to remain calm and confident. It's nothing. It'll be fine. You don't have a family history of breast cancer. You're only 40. On the day of the biopsy, you climb onto the awkward table. You have started to lose your modesty because by now a dozen people have poked, prodded, stretched and positioned your breasts. The biopsy is performed with surgical precision and you are out of there in no time. The recovery is uncomfortable but tolerable. The emotional strain is weighty however. You wait. And wait. And wait. A few days later the radiologist calls you with the prognosis.
You have an early, treatable form of breast cancer in your right breast called DCIS (ductal carcinoma in situ).
You have two options: lumpectomy plus radiation and hormone replacement therapy or mastectomy. The choice will be yours. The nurse will call to schedule an appointment. Spiral, spiral, spiral... Breast cancer?!? You think, "did I just hear her correctly? I can't have breast cancer." As with any new diagnosis, you toggle between concern, disbelief, anger, sadness and overwhelming feelings of fear. Don't worry, they say. We caught it early and your chances of survival are 100%. You just need to decide if you want to lob off one or both breasts completely or just remove the spot then shoot yourself with radiation and take hormones for 5-10 years. What?!? You don't like either of those options. You don't want to have cancer. This can't be happening. Where's the silver lining?
There IS a silver lining and it comes in the form of these 8 gifts:
1) Connecting with new women. Women have a reputation of tearing one another down. That's far from the truth with survivors. Smart, kind, supportive, selfless women are everywhere. Facebook support groups. Friends of friends. Nurses. Doctors. Strangers. Family members. These women will share their stories with you. They will disclose painful and personal anecdotes. They want to educate, inform, and connect. They pop up in unexpected places at unexpected times yet their timing is always perfect. A tribe of women is an emotionally powerful thing.
2) Learning in-depth information about the body. Many know nothing about their bodies much less their breast health when they receive their initial diagnosis especially those who feel invincible and "healthy as a horse." You may actually have said "I don't have time for this" to your surgeon. You may own your own business, have multiple kids, have a house to manage or a dog to feed. Well, guess what? You need to make time and make it your top priority. Getting a cancer diagnosis wakes you up. Fortunately we live in a day and age where information and resources are readily accessible. Knowledge is power.
3) Having a compelling reason to take care of yourself. Many women put everyone else first - the kids, the significant other, the job, the house, the friends, the family, even strangers. Getting a cancer diagnosis forces you to focus on yourself. It is hard to overcome the feeling of selfishness that creeps in when you put yourself first. But if you don't take care of yourself, you won't be able to take care of others. Simple as that. Self-care is crucial to the overall healing process. Make yourself a priority.
4) Strengthening friendships. Some friends hold a daily presence in your life. Others ebb and flow. When you receive a diagnosis, friendship surpasses all things. Friends volunteer to help. Friends share their stories and opinions. Friends distract you. Friends hold the space for you to be happy/sad/scared/angry. Some friends want to take the bull by the horns for you. Other friends want to support you and listen to you. Never underestimate the power of friendship.
5) Deepening your relationship with your significant other. Nothing strengthens a relationship more than a shared experience. While positive shared experiences are preferred, negative experiences can have a profound impact. Attending doctor's appointments, discussing options, considering consequences, and envisioning the future are great ways to deepen a relationship. There is no better time for a significant other to express their love, appreciation and gratitude. Taking the time to fully understand and appreciate what your partner needs - physically, emotionally and spiritually - is a two way street. Both partners can deepen their love and understanding for the other.
6) Understanding that only you know what's best for you. Every doctor, acquaintance and survivor gives their opinion. That opinion is always followed with the caveat "but it's your body. You need to do what's right for you." What an aggravating phrase! At a time when it feels impossible to decide what to have for dinner, the treatment path is like deciding which road to drive down in a foreign country. How can you know what to do? The strange thing is that they are all right. You're the one living with the diagnosis. You're the one responsible for your actions and decision. While you may desperately want someone to make that decision for you, it's your responsibility to decide what's best for you.
7) Embracing each moment with your children. Children bring with them unconditional love and support. Their sheer presence can uplift you. The combination of their busy lives, their own daily drama and their innocence creates a space of peace and calm when you step back and observe. Holding your children, smelling their hair, listening to them chat among friends, watching them laugh and smile at silly things and seeing the concern in their eyes warms the heart and creates purpose and focus. Children's love knows no limit.
8) Grasping that situations in life are temporary. Right now it may feel like the only thing in your life is cancer. The good news is that this breast cancer diagnosis is your struggle today. You've experienced and have overcome struggles in the past. You will experience and overcome struggles in the future. Be kind to yourself. This struggle is just a blip on the radar of life. This, too, shall pass.
Getting cancer isn't a gift. But these are the 8 gifts that I have experienced so far as a result of my cancer diagnosis on May 8, 2015. While the story above is my own, it may sound a lot like yours. I'd love to hear your story.
What gifts have you experienced from this or any other type of diagnosis?