Breast Cancer Awareness Month: Brittani's Story
There's no fancy hook here. If you've made it to this blog, the most important thing I can
say to you right now is PLEASE learn how to give yourself at-home breast exams and check
yourself regularly. (https://www.nationalbreastcancer.org/breast-self-exam/) As us breasties refer
to it, participate in "feel it on the first" and perform at-home breast exams on the first of every
month. Approximately 80% of young women find their abnormalities themselves.
(https://youngsurvival.org/breast-cancer-statistics) Learn about what is normal for your body and
reach out to your care provider if something doesn't seem right.
There, if you don't make it any further, I hope that you take that information and
incorporate it into your life in some way, and please share it with at least one other person.
Now here's the hook: On October 4, 2021 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was
young for this diagnosis with no family history. I found the tumor myself as I was breastfeeding
my 5 month old daughter at the time. She saved my life. There were suddenly 100 things that
needed to be done as soon as possible before chemo started, which also needed to begin as
quickly as I could accomplish these tasks. My cancer was aggressive and had already spread to
my lymph nodes. The waiting was the worst part. Having cancer was horrible, emotionally,
physically, mentally. I did not handle treatment well. To this day I don't think people understand
how sick I was. This is not the norm. Thanks to science however, I was experiencing an allergic
reaction to a premed that did not get caught until late in my treatment, through no fault of my
incredible care team. This made it that much more difficult to take care of the myriad of daily
responsibilities. I lost myself during treatment, but there are a handful of things that allowed me
to hang in there through it all.
People often like to ask me what I learned from my experience, and I love to share about
these things openly. So here they are, in no particular order:
Pay attention to the signs the universe is showing you. Prior to my last chemo treatment, when I physically and mentally felt as if I couldn't handle it, I drove past a random billboard that always held advertisements for gas stations, plumbers, and beer, and it had changed to the classic cat hanging from a tree with the words "hang in there." There's no doubt in my mind that the universe put that there for me.
My husband and I often talk about our favorite concept, "this is the stuff." You know, the stuff that makes life really wonderful. Those awesome experiences in the truest sense of the word. But what is different for me now after having had cancer is that we are able to recognize that the stuff doesn't have to be glamorous or extreme. It's seeing our daughter going down a twisty slide 30 times in a row laughing nonstop, it's a walk in the woods with an unstable toddler and our two crazy dogs, it's a really good cup of coffee when the sun isn't even up all of the way yet, it's spending time with people you love and who love you. It's so much of the in between that happens right in front of us all the time.
Life is not all sunshine and rainbows, but there are sunshine and rainbows. There is hope.
There is so much life to be lived.
Don't spend time or energy investing into people/things that aren't invested in you. Boundaries are a beautiful thing.
There are many lists that exist regarding "what to do if you or a loved one has been
diagnosed with cancer" so I want to offer just one survivor’s input for what to remember if you
find yourself in this situation:
If you have been diagnosed with cancer, I'm so sorry that you are a part of this club. But please know that there is support that exists like nothing else I've ever seen. Reach out when you are able, let yourself be loved and cared for, feel your emotions, and take the time to process.
If you have a close loved one who has been diagnosed with cancer, remember to take care of yourself, too. You are also going through this with them; you need to take care of you so you can help take care of them. And as my husband would lovingly like to say, "buckle up."
If you are looking to support someone who has been diagnosed, or a loved one of someone diagnosed, please don't shy away from walking through this with them. Show up, reach out, and listen.
If you are in survivorship, sheesh, survivorship is tough. Continue to prioritize your overall well-being. Support often falls off once we've finished active treatment, and this can feel incredibly isolating and scary. We know all too well that the appointments continue, the scans continue, the fear continues, and life is forever altered. Work to build the support and the life you need; reach out, seek therapy, move your body, and make helpful choices for yourself.
I'll leave you with one of my favorite quotes I happened across during one of my many
sleepless nights while I was still in active treatment, that I believe can be applicable to all of
humankind, "Run towards life, not away from death."
Here are a handful of additional resources I would like to share: