Coping with a breast cancer diagnosis: My emotions

Dealing with words no woman wants to hear

Tears flow as I write this article--it is difficult for me to face this. I was diagnosed with breast cancer eight days ago on November 10, 2011. It was a day that changed my life forever. The emotions surrounding this diagnosis are overwhelming. I discovered that I need to change how I interact with people who care about me.

Events leading up to a diagnosis

I discovered a large lump in my breast in late September 2011. I called my OBGYN and we set up an appointment. After her examination, she referred me to a surgeon and ordered a diagnostic mammogram.

The mammogram indicated two areas of concern. I spoke with the radiologist and reviewed the films with him. He recommended a biopsy and sent a letter with me that I was to give to the surgeon. Everything in the Mercy Health System is connected through their computers. The surgeon had the results of the mammogram before I arrived at his office.

A wire guided open excision biopsy was decided upon. The results of the biopsy showed two tumors in my left breast. An initial diagnosis of infiltrating ductal carcinoma was given.

Facing a diagnosis of breast cancer

I was glad that my husband was in the room when I got the news. My surgeon told me that the biopsy results were not as good as he had hoped. He said the words I was dreading, "you have breast cancer." I didn't hear anything else he said and hung up the phone. My husband looked at me and I sat down and cried. Later that day, I called and spoke with the surgeon's nurse. She told me exactly what kind of cancer it was, but stated that I had to speak with the doctor for more detailed information. My follow-up appointment was on November 15.

Waiting five days to get the full pathology report was excruciating. I knew I had cancer, but not a whole lot more. I did not want to tell my kids until I had enough information to answer questions they might have. My sisters and parents were recovering from an early snow storm. They had no power or heat. I wanted to wait until they had basic services restored before I said anything to them.

I cried for days. My kids must have known something was going on because I never lock myself in my room and cry. I had my husband at home for the first part of the week--he stayed home to help me after the surgery. It was wonderful that he was home, I cried for the entire week after getting the diagnosis.

My emotions run wild

It took three or four days before I could say the words "breast cancer" without wanting to puke. A million thoughts raced through my mind. Mastectomy, chemo, radiation--would I end up looking like a bald, breastless freak? How do I tell my kids, sisters, parents and friends?

After throwing what I considered to be the world's largest pity party, I decided I needed information so that I could talk with my surgeon about what was going on. There were a million questions and thoughts going through my mind and I wanted concrete answers. Looking on the Internet, I realized how much bad information and stupid advice is out there. But, I found that there are amazingly good sources of information if you know exactly what to look for. The National Cancer Institute is loaded with great information on breast cancer. I started making a list of all of my questions. This brought up an overwhelming amount of emotion. Some of the questions I had were difficult and treatment decisions came with hard choices. I cried more while making my list than at any other time in my life. It is surprising I didn't short out my laptop from all the waterworks.

I finally told my friends and family. After meeting with my surgeon, I told my four children. My kids range in age from 11 to 28. They handled the news well. Sharing my emotions with others is extremely difficult for me. I have always been the strong one--handling everything by myself. You cannot handle breast cancer alone--you need help. Reaching out made me realize that I have an amazing network of caring people who are ready to help me through this.

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