The following is a guest post by Katie Evans. Katie is funny, social, and outgoing and doesn't plan on letting breast cancer get in the way of any of that. Diagnosed in March at the age of 26 and having completed chemo in September, she is on the mend. She has an incredible support system and plans on paying it forward to other young women fighting breast cancer. When I read her post, I asked if I might share it. Thank you Katie…
It feels so good not to live my life in 3 week, chemo-based, increments anymore. I feel like I can plan a little for the future and not have to cram everything into two week periods before I’m laid up from chemo again. I am well into my Christmas shopping and planning my weekends in October and November without having to keep my bowel activity in mind.
I am still far from ‘normal’ but things are looking up. My hair is growing back and I’ve started using shampoo AND conditioner, my stupid armpit hair is growing back as well (too much information??), but my eyelashes and eyebrows are still MIA. I still get stared at but keep in mind, I’m 6 feet tall, queen size is an understatement, and I’m bald; people are going to stare. In the beginning, the staring didn’t bother me because I was very conscience of being bald; I was checking myself out in a mirror every chance I got. But as I got used to my bald head and strangers continued to stare, I kind of got annoyed. I wanted to go over to them and say ’yes, it’s cancer’ but instead I just kept walking. It took me a while to realize that not everyone staring was doing it out of ignorance, I’m sure some were looking at me thinking of a loved one who had gone through chemo, and maybe others were thinking that I was brave leaving the house with my bald head uncovered.
Someone mentioned to me that I should go over to the gawkers and say, very seriously, ‘do you have any questions?’ and I loved the thought of that. Those who are ignorantly looking at me probably do have a lot of questions about cancer, and chemo, and being bald, etc. etc. etc. and wouldn’t it be awesome to be able to answer those questions right on the spot (although, who would say ‘yes, actually, I do have a few questions…’?).
Having cancer has made me re-evaluate my reaction to otherwise frustrating situations. When someone cuts you off on the way home maybe he was preoccupied because his doctor just told him he had cancer. When someone doesn’t hold the door open for you when your hands are full, maybe that person is thinking about his/her daughter that’s in chemo who he/she can’t be with her every day. When someone screws up your morning coffee, maybe she is thinking about the lump she found this morning in the shower. If 1 in 3 people will have cancer, imagine how many people are affected by it. Maybe when people are staring at me, they are admiring the way I’m kicking ass.
Keith and I were talking about the day that I was diagnosed last night. He said that he remembers thinking about the long road that we had ahead of us and now look at where we are, I finished chemo and am starting to heal. I had a bit of a cry tonight as I looked back at the past 6 months. It’s almost like when you’re going through it, you don’t realize the severity of it all but looking back it sets in a little bit. I think of those days that felt like years, the days that felt like no matter what I did, I was going to feel deflated and alone and ‘sick’ for the rest of my life; I can safely say, chemo was the scariest time of my life.
I have learned a lot that can’t be understood unless you’ve gone through a cancer diagnosis/treatment and I think anyone who has been through it ‘just gets it’ and those who haven’t ‘just don’t', and by ‘just don’t’ I guess I should say ‘just can’t’. I was prepared for the physical reaction to chemo but not the psychological. If you know someone who is going through or has gone through cancer (the psychological healing is lifelong – it doesn’t end when treatment ends) please call them or send them a card this week. Tell them that you are thinking about them and ask them if there is anything you can do for them. Better yet, just do something nice for them because the odds of them asking for anything is slim to none. Many times, I felt helpless and asking for help would have made me feel worse but having something nice done for me without having to ask felt so good.
I had many friends checking in on me throughout chemo and as I have said many times before, my support was incredible but there were many friends who called once or not at all. To be fair, many friends just don’t/can’t get it (how would they if they’d never been there) but having gone through it, if I can pass on any advice to those caregivers or friends of patients; let them know that you are thinking about them, let them know that you will be there from the day of diagnosis, to chemo graduation day, from the first doctor’s appointment to the last day of Tamoxifen, from the first day without a breast to the last breath. I just think that if I wasn’t warned about the psychological part of cancer, how can someone without cancer know about it?
Women in their 20s with breast cancer is not a group I wanted to belong to however, now that I am a member, I am honored to fight with these women. It’s not only amazing how many young women are affected by breast cancer but it blows me away how strong they are. It’s like when the cancer/treatment made them physically weaker it made them emotionally stronger at the same time.
Elyn Jacobs is the Director of Grants for the Emerald Heart Cancer Foundation and a breast cancer survivor. She helps women diagnosed with cancer to navigate the process of treatment and care, and she educates about how to prevent recurrence and new cancers. She is passionate about helping others get past their cancer and into a cancer-free life.