Last month, I entered an essay contest in the hopes of winning two Valetta camisoles from Amoena. I was supposed to write how I’ve changed my life since my breast cancer diagnosis and treatment, with the title “This is the New Me.” Since I was diagnosed so young, I don’t feel like I’ve worked to change my life, but changes certainly have happened. I decided to go for it. However, two other worthy essays were chosen. I’m looking forward to reading them in the Amoena Lifelines blog! Here is my non-winning essay.
This Is the New Me
I barely even knew who I was when I was sat alone in my car, tears rolling down my cheeks after my first mammogram. After I was rushed to a surgeon’s office to discuss having a lumpectomy. I hardly even knew myself.
I thought I knew. I had a successful career; had just received a Master’s degree and had a new boyfriend. I thought I knew who I was.
As I entered the OR, I still had hope that this was all a terrible mistake. As I was wheeled out, I knew that nothing would be the same. Nothing was the same.
Before my diagnosis, these were the kind of decisions I had to make: Which apartment should I rent? What car should I buy? Should we go to Red Lobster or Baker’s Square for dinner? Apple pie or French silk? Now, I was faced with life impacting decisions. Life changing decisions. Lumpectomy or mastectomy? Radiation and chemo, or just chemo? To take tamoxifen or deny it? These were all decisions I had to make on my own. No one could suggest that the soup of the day was excellent when the soup du jour was a red liquid that coursed through my veins to seek out and kill fast multiplying cells.
I was 27 when I was calling insurance companies to arrange for treatment, researching all the medical options open to me and shopping for a wig. My pregnant friend was complaining about morning sickness; I was nauseous and couldn’t eat because I was a cancer patient. As I write about my experience, I can hardly believe I rose to the occasion.
But arise I did. Having breast cancer made me a little bolder, a little more confident.
I made decisions based on keeping my body healthy and strong. I opted for a mastectomy and chemo to avoid radiation, since I still wanted to have children. I joined a step aerobics class and every time I kicked or punched, I was driving those cancer cells out of me. I ate broccoli and avoided soy. I wrote notes to remind me to take my Tamoxifen twice a day.
My confidence grew in other areas of my life as well. If I faced a difficult or nerve wracking experience, I told myself, “I fought cancer. I can do this.” When my brother was in a motorcycle accident and was hospitalized for six months, I was able to work with his employers and insurance company, drawing on my own experiences.
The dream to have children remained. My doctors thought there was no reason why I shouldn’t have children. But I wondered about my fertility. Would children even be possible? Oh, yes, let’s not forget I still needed someone to father my children. The boyfriend hadn’t lasted.
Dating was the one area in my life where I was not confident at all. Telling a man that I had lost a breast to cancer was not the least bit sexy, and little too much information for a first date. Before one date, I made myself practically sick with worry. How was I going to bring up this sensitive topic? “Oh, by the way, I’m a cancer survivor…” All that worry was for nothing; that guy stood me up.
Then along came a man who was gentle and kind and a trombone player to boot. He liked me for me, and when the time came, I was nervous but able to tell him my secret.
Sixteen years after those tears on the steering wheel, THIS IS ME: I am a wife and a mother to two precious girls. I am a healthy, confident, WHOLE woman who is missing nothing out of life. I write a blog telling about my breast cancer experiences. I write about becoming a mother after breast cancer to give hope to other young women diagnosed with breast cancer.
Just recently, I came across the blog of a 26 year old woman. I saw myself in her; she is worried sick about what breast cancer treatments have done to her fertility. I wrote her a long comment, telling her my story to give her hope for her unknown future.
She replied, “Your comment literally warms my heart. I LOVE hearing about people like you. Thank you so much for sharing your story and for giving me a little more hope. Seriously LOVE this!”
This is the new me; mother, survivor, encourager. I know the New Me quite well, and I like her.