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You just joined the 1 in 8 sisterhood of women who get breast cancer. Before you head down your treatment road, here are five steps I discovered helped me mentally and financially.
To make your looming cancer journey a little less threatening now’s the time to compare this trip with something in your past that was initially unfamiliar but you quickly adjusted to. Maybe a new job or going to college far from home. For me, it was summer camp.
There are similarities between the way you felt as a kid when you got dropped off at summer camp the first time and the way you’ll feel entering a cancer center as a patient for that first appointment. Just like camp, you’ll be out of your comfort zone, make new friends, sometimes cry late at night, be embarrassed, disoriented, be required to do different things and have different things done to you. As a kid, you probably asked some of the older girls in the hood about what to expect at camp.
Consider me an older girl in the hood and this post an idea of what to expect at “cancer camp.” In addition to the five steps to get you started, here’s a link to exactly what I went through day by day in treatment. I’ve tried to be as complete as possible of the treatment post to help you feel more comfortable about you may be facing. That makes the entire story a long post. You can read the journey here when you are ready. Right now, I suggest looking over this list of things and actions that helped me most.
1. How you frame cancer in your mind is critical.
For me, it was not helpful to view this as a fight because I believe what you resist, persists. I tried to flood my mind and body with calm. Some of my cells had gotten damaged and become cancerous. I was going to put myself in the hands of others to gently eliminate those damaged cells and hopefully the reasons for the damage. That mindset may not be right to you but give yourself time to own your feelings about this situation. And those feelings may change as you go through treatment.
2. Don’t keep your breast cancer a secret.
I am a sharer. Maybe sometimes I overshare, but with cancer, you want to do that. Everyone I worked with or for, exercised by or had a seemingly chance encounter with knew that I have just been diagnosed with cancer. That wasn’t to get sympathy, it was to find connection and direction. And it worked.
For example, one of the secretaries who learned I had cancer came in and asked me if I had AFLAC. A few dollars had gone out of my bank account for a cancer policy with AFLAC since 1992, but I’d forgotten about it. Amelia went over my policy and showed me I was eligible for around $15,000 cash for my diagnosis to cover unexpected expenditures. Then I learned I would be collecting cash payments for any surgery, radiation, chemo, transportation expenses, second opinion. The list was long, and I still receive a quarterly check for my oral chemo, even three years after my treatment. It was a welcome surprise.
3. Use your connections
I was diagnosed around the middle of September in 2013. My insurance was excellent. I lived close to MD Anderson Cancer Center in Houston. MD Anderson goes back and forth for the top cancer center in the US ranking with Sloan Kettering and Mayo. My breast cancer tumor was little but it was huge for me, and I wanted to go there.
MD Anderson is not always easy to get into, but my boss’s boss was gym friends with someone in administration at MDA’s Mays Clinic for Breast Cancer. After an initial fruitless approach to the center, I applied again and got into the Mays Clinic with the help of this connection. It may have eventually happened anyway, but the extra juice didn’t hurt.
4. Take your medical records with you
Electronic medical records are great but on your initial visit to the cancer center, take hard copies with you. No matter how early you sent in your records to be scanned into their database, systems can and do break down. Those first few visits are all about comparing what’s happening in your body. That means baseline reports and what caused your doctors to suspect cancer in the first place. My records didn’t get scanned in time for my first visit. Luckily, I was dragging around a tote filled with hard copies, so no time was wasted.
5. Take advantage of breast cancer to make yourself a priority
Most likely you didn’t cause your cancer unless you’ve been chomping on asbestos or some other horrible thing. Cancer happens to lots of people, including men and one in eight women. It’s what you do now that matters, not what came before. Take care of yourself. Think of this time of treatment as a spa vacation. Get facials, manicure, pedicures, go to movie matinees or eat breakfast out. Do whatever makes you feel peaceful and rested.
Make yourself a priority. If people are trying to bully you into taking on a new project at work or in the PTA, it is more than okay to play the cancer card. I did it constantly. “I’d love to help run the fall carnival, but I never know what my schedule will be BECAUSE I HAVE CANCER.”
This is your time
So hang in there, sista. Take these steps to help you manage the anxiety and fear and get the best treatment for your breast cancer. Believe it or not, you and your family and even your friends will be stronger and more resilient for sharing this trip. Good Luck and God Speed and let me know what’s working for you. We’re all in this together.
Funky Texas Traveler says
Please forgive me for the delay in answering. I got flooded in Harvey and the last few weeks of repairs consumed me. Your question is a tough one. I don’t know what to tell you because I bet when you were diagnosed you lived on the internet researching your cancer just like I did with my cancer. Also my breast cancer was so minor compared to what you are asking about. Have you or your doctors talked about immunotherapy trials? While I was going through my treatment at MD Anderson, I read about Jim Allison who was taming cancers by using the immune system, a direction that was out of favor. He’s a pretty non-typical doctor – rumpled, country, plays a harmonica. He looked at the immune system in a non-typical way and had some huge breakthroughs. Read more about him here. https://www.technologyreview.com/s/604086/immunotherapy-pioneer-james-allison-has-unfinished-business-with-cancer/
Good luck and keep me posted. Us cancer sista’s need to keep tabs on each other.