Carol: Finding joy in a dark time
I am a 66 year-old retired nurse. I was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer in October 2010. It was my first cancer diagnosis, and I was shocked, not only because of the seriousness of this disease, but because I had a negative mammogram 4 months prior to the discovery of "the lump." I discovered it in the shower on September 11th...another reason I will always remember that date! I had an itchy feeling on the lateral side of my left breast. I remember scratching and realized it was the same location as the stereotactic biopsy of the left breast I had in February 2009. The results of that test were also negative. I never suspected that this lump was cancer! Probably because I didn't think I was at risk and, in fact, with the recent negative tests, I thought I was home free.
Further examination revealed a lump in the right breast (ductal); the tumor on the left was larger at 7.5 cm (lobular). The PET scan showed metastasis to the bone. Chemo started in November. During this time, I reflected on what a radiologist previously told me: my dense breast tissue made reading my mammograms difficult. He said, "All we see is white shadows."
I was in a very dark place during the first month following my diagnosis and instinctively knew I needed to get out. I began to write poems about my experiences and feelings as a catharsis...it felt better after I put it all down on paper...better out than in! I took advantage of peer counseling and called the 1-800 number provided by a cancer organization. I ended up speaking for an hour with a woman who has my exact diagnosis. She opened with, "I am a 9 year survivor of breast cancer with metastasis to the bone." That gave me a lot of hope and picked up my spirits. She shared so much with me that was helpful. You can learn quite a bit by talking to someone with your diagnosis. She also mentioned that she sought professional help for her situational depression and found anti-depressant medication to be a useful addition to her treatment. I was at the time crying at the drop of a hat and decided to ask my oncologist for an Rx for an anti-depressant. It worked miracles. I am up and cheerful and able to handle things & enjoy life once again.
It's really about family and friends. One of my best coping strategies was to surround myself with people who would support me in a positive way. Seven women, including my two daughters, make up my support circle. I send them e-mail updates after each chemo treatment or when I get the results of scans or critical tests. I get feedback from them, and it feels good to know they are on the same page with me. When we spend time together, it doesn't have to be about my numbers or tests or what's happening with my cancer treatment. We can have more fun by focusing on the other things that fill our lives.
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