An Open Letter to a Woman Who Has Breast Cancer

ThinkstockPhotos-176984427Dear Friend,

I know your world has recently been turned upside down. You can hardly breathe and you’re worried about your future and your family’s future.

It’s possibly you’ve come to grips with your diagnosis but are recovering from surgery, or going through chemotherapy or radiation.

Regardless of where you are in the journey, this letter is for you.

Today marks two years since I first heard the four words no woman wants to hear: You have breast cancer.

In the cancer world, that makes me a two-year survivor.

During my six months of treatment, there were many breast cancer survivors who had served as my “cancer coaches” along the journey. They shared their experiences, wisdom, and knowledge.

Over the past two years, I’ve had the privilege of doing the same for those coming behind me. Today I want to share some words of encouragement from one survivor to another:

1) This too shall pass. As devastated as you feel right now, I promise this will pass. Your priorities will change and you’ll gain clarity on what’s really important in life. Take one day at a time and when that is too much, take one hour or even one minute at a time. Close your eyes, breathe deeply, and calm your anxious heart.

2) You are more than your breasts and your hair. It’s hard for anyone to lose any part of their body, but losing two parts of our body that define our femininity make it double hard. No matter what you choose: lumpectomy, mastectomy, double mastectomy, reconstruction or no reconstruction, you will survive and become accustomed to your “new normal.” If your treatment includes hair loss, it’s not the end of the world.  Choose to handle this however YOU want to handle it: wig, scarves, hats, or simply embracing bald.

3) Advocate for yourself. Ask questions. Request tests. Communicate about side effects. This is not the time to be the martyr. I suffered terrible side effects from my first chemo treatment until my doctor said, “Jill, you have to let us know if the meds we give you are working or not. If they’re not, I have a dozen more options I can give you.” I learned to speak up early and not “push through” the tough days. Now more than ever there resources available online to help you understand what your treatment options are – Cure Forward is a platform that can inform you about your treatment options and help you connect with a clinical trial administrator.

4) Accept help. You don’t have the energy you usually have. Let others grocery shop, cook, clean, and help with kids if they offer.  If they don’t offer, ask for what you need. You are not putting people out…you are helping them help you.  (Check out www.cleaningforareason.org for complimentary housecleaning for cancer patients).

5) Don’t go to doctor appointments alone. You are hearing terminology you’ve never heard before. You have treatment options to consider. You may be emotional which causes you to miss important information the doctor communicates. Ask a spouse, friend, or family member to accompany you to all your appointments.

6) Set up a free Caring Bridge page for mass communication. This makes life simpler for you so you don’t have to contact friends and family members with test results and health updates. Those who care can subscribe to your page. When you post an update, they get an email notification.  My husband even used my Caring Bridge page to provide updates during my surgery. This helped him to be focused on me instead of making dozens of phone calls to update family and friends.

7) Lean into God. We can build our life on sinking sand or on a Solid Rock. God’s word kept me strong even when I felt weak. It gave me footing when it felt like the rug was pulled out from under my feet. Right now, life is changing. You need to focus on an unchanging God who is the same yesterday, today, and tomorrow. Even when it is not well with your circumstances, it CAN be well with your soul.

8) Find encouragement from those who have gone before you. During my journey, I wrote several blog posts you might find helpful. Here are a few of the most popular ones:

Seven Reasons Why I Have Hope in the Hardship

The Value of Nose Hair and Other Things You Might Not Know About Cancer Treatment

5 Things You May Not Know About Radiation Treatments

Cancer Humor

8 Promises You Can Count On In A Crisis

How To Be Jesus With Skin On (share this one with your friends!)

9) Give yourself time. Cancer treatment takes a lot out of you. I’m two years out and most days I feel like myself again. I don’t think about cancer everyday anymore.Yet, there are times where I just don’t have the stamina quite like a did before cancer. That’s okay and to be expected. Give your body the time it needs to recover.

Right now, you’re in the middle of the muddle. Most likely, this time next year, cancer will be in the rearview mirror of your life. Until then, let yourself heal. Accept help when it’s offered. Draw close to those around you. Allow yourself to be loved…by your family and by God.

You’ve got this, girlfriend, and you’re going to be okay.

Love,

Jill

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