You Have Breast Cancer. Now What?
You are newly diagnosed with breast cancer. It’s not a club you signed up for, but here you are. Now what?
The truth is, breast cancer has a million different permutations. Diagnoses, treatments, and personal reactions create a completely unique experience for each individual. All are valid. All are real. All can change.
My name is Steph Kennelly. At age 37 in November 2020 I was diagnosed with IDC e/p+ her2- Stage 2, 2.3 cm left breast tumor with clear lymph nodes. I had a double mastectomy with expander reconstruction and nipple sparring, and 12 weeks of TC chemotherapy followed by tamoxifen. My coping strategy is connection.
Your are also dealing with a mishmash quagmire of letters and numbers. You’ll quickly onboard to this foreign language. Whatever your permutation, there are some universally helpful tips to navigate this journey. I like lists, so here is a Five Step list to get you started and answer the question, “Now what?”
Step 1- Build Your Team
A supportive medical team is critical. These players may include medical oncologist, general surgeon, reconstructive surgeon, physical therapist, dermatologist, and more. It can seem overwhelming on how to best choose.
At this point, you have interacted with medical professionals at a breast center. Most centers have a nurse navigator or patient advocate available to patients. These team members are more valuable than any Yelp review. They can suggest doctors in network, close to home, who have your desired style.
At your first appointment, trust your gut. If you get a bad vibe, for whatever reason, then it isn’t a fit. Don’t feel bad. It is your responsibility to find another doctor. Call your nurse navigator and ask for another recommendation.
Build the Dream Team.
Step 2- Trust Your Team
As you move through this process, everyone will have an opinion. My recommendation is, drown out the noise.
Go along with the recommendations from your team. No googling. No second opinions. For my healing, I couldn’t handle second guessing.
When faced with a difficult decision I would ask my doctors, “If you were me, what would you do?” And then I would do that.
Trust the Dream Team.
Step 3- Identify Your Village
You will need support. Noticing who does, and who doesn’t, show up can be surprising. The ability to show up and be emotionally supportive is about inner personal resources available, not you personally. So don’t take it personally.
That being said, who you can count on?
I recommend setting up a closed communication page, like CaringBridge, to communicate with your village. I chose extensive privacy settings, requiring village members to request access. I shared the link with a wide audience (co-workers, social media, etc.) knowing that requesting access would act as a gatekeeper and weed out the rubberneckers. I share medically and emotionally sensitive information on my CaringBridge, and like knowing the audience.
Identify the village.
Step 4- Ask for Help
Create a CaringBridge Journal Entry called, “How can I help?” People want to help. You’ll need the help.
Offer a variety of access points and vary the amount of time, money, and emotional capacity of each. Here are 4 to get you started. (I love lists.)
- Food- Be specific with your requests and include homemade, store bought, and raw groceries
- Visits- Phone, zoom, or in person
- Gifts- Set up an Amazon Wish List of things that you need
- Letters- Request handwritten letters or artwork to fill your room
Your village wants to help. Accept it!
Step 5- Day by Day
It is tempting to live in the future when going through a cancer diagnosis. While future visualization can be a powerful coping tool, so much of the journey will be unknown and slowly unfold. To avoid being disappointed or derailed, I recommend, as much as possible, taking it one day at a time. Day by day. My go-to is, “This is what I know to be true today.”
Then, continually refer back to Steps 2 and 4.
Once you feel really solid in these first five steps, you can add more. For example, you can laugh, find an anthem, meditate, connect, shop, or plan your celebration. Have kids? Living Beyond Breast Cancer will send you 2 free books to start the conversation.
Just don’t get overwhelmed. Remember Step 5.
I’m here too. Reach out at firstname.lastname@example.org and instagram @stephkennelly. I am happy to connect via zoom and help with any technical pieces.
You got this.