The toughest part of my first breast cancer, in 1999, was not the surgery, or the radiation, or even the five years on Tamoxifen. It was coping with the fears it set off. I lived alone; could I take care of myself during treatment? I needed to support myself; could I work during treatment? After treatment, the ifs set in – what if I get a recurrence or a new cancer in the other breast and need a mastectomy? What if I want to change jobs, will I be able to get insurance or will this be considered a preexisting condition? I was really tired of breast cancer being the first thing I thought of when I woke and the last thing I thought of before falling asleep at night
Joining a support group helped me to start getting my fears under control. I developed new coping skills from sharing with other women with breast cancer. I started to live in the here and now and not project. I came to grips with the fact that I was not going to get my old, pre-breast cancer life back. If I was going to have a good life after breast cancer, then I was going to have to change, to adapt to a life that included breast cancer follow up care. I needed to learn to live with fear on the back burner.
I began to accept that I didn’t cause my cancer and there was nothing I could do to prevent a recurrence or a new cancer. I could, however, be vigilant by having regular screenings and checkups to insure that if I did get breast cancer a second time it would be caught early. That is exactly what happened. My second cancer, 10 years later, was a second primary, a stage one, early cancer. It was picked up, once again, in a mammography.
I learned to play a game with myself so that breast cancer fears didn’t control me. I gave myself permission to stop thinking about my cancer except for the week before a check up, at which point I could be as anxious as I wanted to be. It took a lot of practice to do, but after awhile I realized I hadn’t thought of my cancer for days, then weeks, eventually months. My fears were more manageable with my second breast cancer and my game was easier to play because of what I learned in between cancers.
The fears my breast cancer triggered also made me take stock of how I was spending my time. I’ve made a lot of changes in my life since my first cancer. Mostly they are happy changes…a new career …a new relationship.
Whenever I start to waiver about taking on a new project that I have wanted to do, but put off, I remember what my son, Ned, said to me after my first breast cancer. He reminded me that I wasn’t on borrowed time, I was on bonus time and you never spend bonus time the same way you spend regular time.
The years I’ve had since my first breast cancer continue to be good ones, filled with time spent with people and activities that are important to me.
Source: Jean Campbell, www.noboobsaboutit.com