Emily, a military harpist for 23 years, joined NBCF’s support group after completing treatment for Stage 2 IDC. Her story includes God whispers, debunking right and wrong treatment decisions, and practicing grace during healing.
Until diagnosis day, I was a very healthy person. I never took any medicine, never had anything wrong with me when I went to the doctor. But in a routine mammogram, a tumor was detected, and they asked me to come back. That had happened before, so I hadn’t thought too much about it. I thought, “It’s another one of those [callbacks].”
But this time it was different, and they said, “We’d like you back for a biopsy.”
I did the biopsy, and I just knew. When I got the call, I was home. It was a snow day. Thank God I was home, and I wasn’t at work. There were all these little God whispers along the way. The doctor said, “It’s invasive ductal carcinoma.”
I had never even heard that term before. I said, “Is that cancer?”
It was handled so well and professionally that I didn’t even really get upset; I just felt outside of my body. I was upset, of course, but I just went into work mode. Sitting down and telling the kids was probably the worst of it because they were 15, 13, and 12 at the time.
Calculations, Worries, and Doing What’s Best
I didn’t research because I knew it would have just worried me. I thought, “There’s nothing I can do about it anyway. I trust my doctors. I’m going to listen to what they have to say.” There’s a point, though, where you do need to know what you’re up against. Finally, when I let myself look around a little bit, I kept the balance between educating and not worrying. I learned IDC is common, about 70-80% of breast cancer diagnoses—and there were many, many survivors. I just knew it was going to be okay.
On the phone, they told me a nurse navigator would call me and set everything up. She was so calm and wonderful. Then, I met with the surgeon who explained my options. I was really surprised by how many medically recommended options there were. That was another hard part: There wasn’t necessarily a right or wrong decision for most situations, just whatever’s best for you.
Tuning Everything Out
When I found out my breast cancer was Stage 2, I went into tunnel vision. I was only focused on surgery. I opted for the bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction, and I felt good about that.
I told everyone, “I’ll be back to work in a few weeks because I don’t have to have chemo and radiation. I’m sure it’ll be fine.”
When the pathology report came back, it showed cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I didn’t hear a word my doctor said other than chemo. I could not believe I had to have chemo and radiation. Just a few weeks ago, I was fine.
How was I faced with more options and more decisions? All I wanted was to stop going to the hospital and getting more bad news.
After radiation, I went back to work. That’s when the healing really began because everyone said, “Yay, you’re done.”
I had a neighbor who even threw me a chemo party, which, looking back, I was not ready for a chemo party, but it was a surprise and she really meant well. Something that was an education to me, my family, and all my friends: It’s not “Yay, you’re done.” It’s “Okay that treatment is over; now it’s time to heal.”
There’s a lot of healing that goes beyond the physical that I was not expecting. That’s when I found the National Breast Cancer Foundation support group.
I play the harp, and I think the breast cancer affected it a little bit. It was hard to go back to work. I couldn’t stop crying and thought, “Something is not right.”
Everyone encouraged me throughout my treatment: “Do you want to talk to someone?”
“No, I don’t want to talk about it. I don’t want to talk about it at all.” I was sure of that. I didn’t want to say the word “cancer.” I still bristle when I say the word “cancer.”
Then it became apparent I could not go on. I was depressed, and work was hard. My physical therapist nudged me to talk to someone, and I finally felt ready.
I started attending a local support group and cried the whole time. It took me a long time to share and express my feelings. But I never felt uncomfortable with other patients because I felt like they get it. They don’t think it’s complaining; they just think you’re sharing. I had trouble opening up and saying how it really was because it felt like complaining to me.
I asked if anybody had help with hormone therapy or advice, and Tina, the NBCF support group facilitator, suggested acupuncture. I tried it, and I feel like a new person.
Tina does an amazing job. I’ve attended three different support groups, but the reason this one is so special has a lot to do with Tina always knowing exactly what to say. I always walk away feeling validated and heard.
A Word for Myself and for Others on this Journey
If you don’t know if you’re ready for a support group, give it a try. I think you’d be surprised how many people are in your corner and fighting just like you are—how normal all the feelings are and how many people are feeling the same thing. Tina and the team at NBCF even point you in the direction of more resources.
There’s so much help out there. I was uncomfortable accepting help at home, but then realized people want to help; it makes them feel better. If you’re in the trenches of breast cancer: Take the meals. Take the help. Take the support. Take the ride for the kids. Take the HOPE Kit.
I selected a “word of the year” last year: grace. I kept thinking, why am I not bouncing back? Why can’t I go out and run? Why can’t I stop crying? I have to remind myself— you have been through a lot. Your body responded well, and you have to give it time. You have to give yourself grace. And if you’re just not there, give yourself space and time to get there. It might take a while. We only get one chance at this life, so I try to be gentle and kind to myself.
My word for this year is hope. I hope to get out of the pandemic and back to normal. And not even a pandemic normal, but maybe my life-after-cancer normal.
National Breast Cancer Foundation is here for you and your loved ones. Whether you need support, education, or help during treatment, we have a team dedicated to get you the help you deserve.