Updated: Sep 1, 2020
Before cancer I was considered a fairly private person. I do have a large circle of friends, I tend to make friends easily, I tend to keep friends and have many close relationships. When I was going through the investigative stages of my diagnosis I didn't say much to anyone about what was happening, I carried on through Thanksgiving with my family and worked for a month more continuing to do well at my job. Then on Thursday November 1, 9:15am I got the news that I had cancer and many things immediately changed.
I took a few days off work and gathered my thoughts, but by Monday I was back in the office and wanting to tell a few people my news, with tears and all. It was one of the most interesting experiences. The tears were typically not mine. People sat in my office sniffling and crying while I comforted them about my diagnosis. Others were supportive, brave and shed tears in their own offices. Some were black and white about it, "okay-now what, get treatment, recover and be good right?". Re-kindled connections were made with childhood friends and those that lived far away. Some friends vanished, maybe not at first but overtime slowly disappeared.
I quickly learned emotionally I could only have a few "shares" a day, it was draining. I found that the more upbeat I was the better people took the news. I also didn't do all the sharing myself, I had delegated a few co-workers to do that for me. I had my sister speak to my parents and brother and be the go between on questions that I didn't have answers for. The worst was that I had to call my husband who was away on work and wouldn't be home for another few days and tell him over the phone. Hard but had to be done.
While I shared my news to closer work colleagues, others heard and popped by to check on me. I worked a few more days and packed ALL my stuff and never looked back. I never once checked my email or visited my workplace until months after active treatment. I shut that door, I had other priorities and I couldn't keep that door even cracked.
In the beginning I was constantly updating selected family and friends via text/phone and it was exhausting. I created a private Facebook group and updated everyone at once. It was a good opportunity to keep everyone in the loop and allowed me to keep a record of the past 18 months. Overtime I invited more to the group and shared a little more detail as I continued on my journey. The posts were still very matter of fact, what surgery, how long to recover, which chemo session etc.
As I quickly learned I had incredible support and before no time I was gifted meals twice a week delivered to the house from co-workers who are amazing cooks and/or have amazing taste in take out. Some that contributed were people I worked with but not all closely, it was a real sense of community and support. Then their were strangers, a group of moms/dads who's kids went to a daycare my family used years ago gathered and supplied us with a range of gift cards, gift baskets and meals. Strangers! People I have never ever met! Let that sink in! The kindness my family experienced was nothing I could of ever imagined. I was gifted so many thoughtful books, slippers, shawls, food, oils, jewelry, MUGS and kindness! Our family will be forever grateful for the experience in receiving such support.
It wasn't until the 1 year mark that I felt ready to have "Facebook cancer" I made a reference on my own personal page and for me coming out that I had cancer was a process, overtime talking about cancer got easier, or maybe I just got used to it. Everyone handles their situation differently, there really is no easy or right way to do it and I needed to own that this was what I was comfortable with.
On the other hand I still had secret cancer. I was afraid of looking sick, looking like I had cancer, I wore makeup and nail polish to chemo, I showered everyday throughout treatment and tried to do what I normally did. I was very self-conscious out in public and even around close friends was quieter and told them I felt like I couldn't have fun anymore. I would compare myself to others and wish for the day I could throw my hair up in a bun or not wear long sleeves to cover my picc line or a wig/hats and shawls to avoid sun over my radiation. For those that are not the sharing kind, suffering with secret cancer can be difficult. With all the variations online you can still seek out support and connections. This is really how you heal.
There are also the experiences of hearing "What stage are you?", "Whats the survival rate?" "At least you have options" "I know a few people who have died of breast cancer" "My grandmother had that, she suffered badly". This is fear, when people get scared their brains malfunction and they say things like this. It's hard to hear, but I felt that no one maliciously was trying to undermine my situation or upset me.
As time went on, and it does. I started to look in the mirror again, sometimes I would need to look away and other times I was intrigued by this new person. Who was she? What did she have to say?
I remember following survivors and pre-vivors on social media and watching many women join all the runs/walks for cancer, sharing so openly their beautiful baldness, warrior scars and more. I felt pressure that I should be doing something the same, why am I not? What is wrong with me? It wasn't my time, I didn't have it in me and I wasn't ready. When your ready you will know it. I am still not there 100%, I still have a lot of work to be done but I want to get there one day.
One of the crucial moments that helped me start to feel and be more open was around my one year of diagnosis that I was invited to speak at a BRA day (Breast reconstruction awareness) event. My plastic surgeon called me and suggested I share my story, the large audience would be other women newly diagnosed or considering preventative surgeries along with support partners. I immediately said no, and that I would participate in the show and tell portion. Hung up the call and within 5 minutes knew this was an opportunity and called her back and signed myself up for speaking. I was nervous, but new my material well. It was my story, what better to speak about then something you have lived through. I felt so proud of the women their learning about their options, the other 2 speakers and how brave they were to share and tell their stories. It was a turn around moment in my healing and journey. I stood on stage looking at eyes that I recognized, ones that felt shame, shock, fear and I knew this was how I was going to make a difference.
Today I am more public with my blog, my story and experiences then ever. Although I would be silly not to admit that I get a little anxious every time I hit post/share. I want to help someone, even if just one women looking to hear a real story, a real experience and that I am on the other side ready to share and inspire. I also want to remind others that there is no right way and not everyone will put themselves out there. I am 19 months post diagnosis, my blog feels right. I feel I have a story and I know how I want to tell it. Be kind to yourself, there is no right way.
This photo is from my 11 year old, its a maze that starts at cancer and ends at no cancer, with the path of many corners, blocks, re-routes and a goal. From the eyes and minds or our babes.