Don't Be Afraid to Feel Yourself Up
Almost three and a half years ago, my mom received a call that she had an irregular mammogram. My dad was out of town and I was in town visiting my parents, so I tagged along for the second mammogram (on our way to go shopping, of course) and for the doctor's appointment after her needle biopsy. I remember sitting in the doctor's office with her, surrounded by pamphlets with tips for keeping your scalp warm during chemo and information on breast cancer. "That sucks for those families," I thought to myself.
The doctor walked in and sat down. Not one for small talk, she went and opened with a statement I'll never forget: "We believe you have invasive ductile carcinoma with in situ characteristics." I grabbed my mom's hand and braced myself to listen to every word, allowing my mom to slip into shock so I could report the painful news in detail to my dad, my brothers, her parents. We got on the elevator after the appointment and my mom looked at me and said, "That woman just told me I have cancer."
The next few months were a fog. I moved home to be with my parents. I sat in a waiting room holding my dad's hand for eight hours as the love of his life had a double mastectomy, and tried to make her laugh through rigorous chemotherapy sessions. My mom is known for her iconic mane of firey red hair, and two days before her 53rd birthday, I walked into her bathroom to find my beautiful mother sitting at her vanity holding clumps of hair in her hands. Thirty minutes later, I was standing in the back yard with shaky hands, shaving my mom's thick head of hair that I had envied since I was a child. Three years later, reliving these memories, the feelings of fear, anger, helplessness, and sorrow have rushed back and all I can think is one thing -- cancer sucks. You can eat as healthy as possible, be an incredible person (which my mom is), and help other people, but sometimes it still doesn't matter. Cancer can effect anyone at anytime. That's why it's important to have gratitude and to enjoy every day and every moment you get to share with the people you love. Our attitudes change everything, and I witnessed first hand how far a positive attitude can take a person while in the throes of cancer treatment.
This isn't a post to brag about how brave my mom was, or how she went from warrior to survivor (heck yes!) but rather a post on awareness. My mom was diagnosed with Triple Negative Breast Cancer, which is the most aggressive form. Before her diagnosis, I thought breast cancer was breast cancer, but while some breast cancers are hormonally fed, they still don't know the cause of Triple Negative. What they do know, is that TNBC is being diagnosed in girls as young as 16, so while we assume that breast cancer is an older woman's disease, it is now effecting young women every day. The alarming part of TNBC is that there's only one treatment plan, so the farther into the disease women are when diagnosed, the more difficult it can be to treat and remove from the body.
Scary? Absolutely. And we were terrified when my mom was diagnosed. But the most powerful tool we have to protect ourselves is education and prevention. To put it simply, feel yourself up before you let someone else do it. Get to know your girls. Know how they feel during all phases of your cycle so you can know when something doesn't feel right. Find a gyno that you like and trust and keep an open line of communication with her. ask questions, educate yourself, care about your health. Learn about your family history. Look for cancer patterns so you know what
to keep an eye on. This isn't paranoia (and if a doctor ever makes you feel that way, walk out of that office and find another). This is the act of self love. You get one body, so treat it with love and compassion. Have your own back so you can continue to live life to the fullest.
And for the love of all that is good, always remember -- examining your breasts is more important than instagraming them.
Alex Williamson for The Bumble Hive
Alex's mom, Cathy, is the founder of The Middle Page blog, where she bravely chronicled her journey with TNBC, and uses the platform to help other women with the disease.