My Life with Breast Cancer: Resilience and Community

By Jenna Lin

by Celia Cooksey

Statistically, one in eight women will be diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. I am one of eight. To say the last year-and-a-half post-diagnosis has been a struggle is such an understatement. Cancer treatments take their toll, and the price is so high physically and emotionally. I completely concur with the statement, “What does not kill you, makes you stronger.” I am proof. Yes, I have cancer, but cancer does not have me.

In attempt to kill the cancer and to stop future cancers, I have consented to a double mastectomy, 28 sessions of radiation, full hysterectomy and will be on hormone therapy for five to ten years.

I think one of the hardest moments for me was telling my family, particularly my kids. I think the term “soul-crushing” would fit nicely here. I couldn’t even look at them when I told them. I’m a strong woman who used to have a pretty decent memory, and I didn’t want to remember their faces when I told them, so I looked down as I spoke.

Many women question if they should have a lumpectomy, a single mastectomy, or a double mastectomy. I knew right away in my heart of hearts that a double mastectomy was the way to go because I don’t think I could bear telling my family that I have cancer again. Once in a lifetime is enough for me. That’s what I’m hoping for.

When I was diagnosed, suddenly, everything changed. Some of those changes were good, some of them, the more fear-based, were bad. The bad were the nightmares and grieving a future I thought I was going to have. So much of my future was so uncertain and suddenly reshaped by forces beyond my control.

A change for the better is the ability to treasure the present. When I stopped focusing on quantity, and started focusing on quality, the “now” came into focus. Every day I tell my family that I love them. I make a point to reach out to the people who are important in my life. I make choices that feed my soul and bring me joy.

I knew I had to be strong for my family because they were counting on me to be a survivor, so I did the surgery. When I was advised that I was cancer-free, I was so excited. Three months later, after another surgery, they found a little bit more cancer, and it was now present in my lymph vascular system. Frankly, the news was heartbreaking.

At this point, I consider myself a survivor, and I have to have faith that the hormone therapy that I am on will keep any errant growth of a re-occurrence in check.

I never anticipated I would need an “I have cancer” contingency plan in my life. I always pictured a more carefree existence. Cancer is taking that from me. It has brought me other health complications that I didn’t anticipate, but it has provided me with an opportunity to be a survivor. I mean I am fighting for the opportunity to watch my kids grow. As I sit on the sofa, composing this with my sweet dog beside me, I have to I wonder whom will outlive whom.

These are my thoughts now, and I do not let them scare me. They inspire me to get out there and make the most of my life. I won’t let myself live in fear because that’s not productive and it won’t change the outcome. What I can change is how I react. I will get up every day, and I have promised myself, I will eat well and take good care of my body. I spent a lot of time lining up the dominoes so that they fall in my favor, because that’s all I can do. No one is promised tomorrow, and I am no different. This is my life, and I’m going to fight for it.

I am not alone. I am a one in eight women who is diagnosed with breast cancer during their lifetime. Look around your social circles, one in eight includes a lot of ladies, including friends, family, colleagues and neighbors.

If you give us enough time, a bunch of ladies are going to get together, and we’re going to start talking and make something fabulous. The breast cancer community is absolutely amazing. Their strength has been shared with me; I have my own strength now and share it with others. Honestly, to be able to help someone who is facing a five-plus-hour surgery by sharing my experience to show them “I did it” makes it worthwhile. Helping oneself is one thing, but helping others is what feeds the soul.

Cancer and related treatments are hard, and I have been blessed to have been able to get involved with a local organization. Think Pink Monroe in Connecticut goes out of its way to help women during active treatment. I was able to help organize a breast cancer support group as a board member of their organization.

Being there and supporting my fellow Pink Warriors is how I spend most of my free time, whether it’s in person or online or on the phone. I may not be able to change the outcome of their circumstance, but I can certainly walk beside them during their journey.

To all my fellow Pink Warriors out there, keep fighting.

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