In February 2018, I felt a small lump on my right breast after a random self-check. Given the fact that I was only 30 years old at the time, my first thought was that it was a cyst, possibly due to a hormonal imbalance, so I didn’t panic immediately. I didn’t think it could possibly be cancer. I was young, healthy, very active, and didn’t have any terrible habits that I could think of. I didn’t have a family history of cancer either, so I wasn’t thinking of the worst-case scenario. Because of this, I let life distract me and a few months went by. I went through a painful divorce that April, and it wasn’t until July that I noticed that the small lump wasn’t so small anymore. As panic began to set in, I decided to finally get myself checked.
I didn’t think it could possibly be cancer.
After a couple of breast exams, an ultrasound, and a biopsy, I got that dreaded call from my doctor; he was asking me to come to the hospital. At the other end of the line, my voice began to break. I knew what he was going to say; I had breast cancer. “But don’t worry. It’s still at a very early stage,” the doctor reassured me as tears began streaming down my face.
My first thought was how could this have happened? I’m barely 31 years old. How can I have breast cancer? I felt guilty, as if having cancer was my fault and I could have prevented it somehow. I tried to find something to blame it on. Was it a bad habit? Was it my own vanity? Was this some kind of punishment? I didn’t understand why or how this could have happened to me. I became obsessed with finding out. I went to seven doctors in six different hospitals in the hopes that someone would give me something to blame it on. But no; I was told that I had developed a “spontaneous” form of cancer.
I felt guilty, as if having cancer was my fault and I could have prevented it somehow.
I went through so much in those few months. Between the number of exams and all the different people who saw and touched my breasts, they became desexualized to me. I felt as if they were not mine anymore. There were so many decisions that had to be taken so quickly and I was so afraid. I didn’t know how I would feel without my breast and whether or not my body would withstand the chemo.
Losing my right breast and going through five months of chemotherapy made me see myself in a way I never, ever expected to. I dealt with months of not feeling like myself, both physically and mentally, as exhaustion and the side effects of chemo began setting in. It was a true mental battle; in spite of the way I was feeling, I had to consistently rewire my thoughts and remind myself that what I was going through was temporary, to make myself believe that I was going to come out stronger, and to try not to let the cancer win.
Through it all, however, my friends and family surrounded me with so much love that it managed to pull me through a lot of the fear. I focused on myself entirely and lined up therapy sessions, energy healing, and lots of meditation. Ultimately, I decided to give in to my destiny and hope for the best. I stopped questioning the why so much and focused more on what could come of this and how this experience was going to change me.
Cancer made me question my ideals of beauty and femininity, and it made me understand my body in ways I didn’t think were possible. It made me realize that there is no better time to do anything than right now. I didn’t need a “special occasion” to wear the sequin skirt I loved so much or the fancy heels I had spent so much money on, or to tell my friends I adored them with all my heart, or to eat that brownie I craved.
I stopped questioning the why so much and focused more on what could come of this and how this experience was going to change me.
Cancer has given me a different perspective on time, a realization that everything we are is in the now and we have to make the most of it. It taught me to be patient and that not everything is in my control; sometimes, I just have to wait and hold on to my strength, to my friends, and to my family and hope for the best. Cancer also taught me to embrace my feelings and accept my vulnerability as a gift to be shared with others.
My story is one of many survivors. I was and continue to be inspired by the strong, brave women whom I met on this journey, women of all ages and in different stages of this unpredictable disease.
Cancer does not discriminate based on age or much else, so no matter how young and healthy you are, start getting to know yourself through self-examinations every first day of the month and encourage other women around you to do the same. If it wasn’t for a self-check, I would not have caught the malignant tumor at an early stage and perhaps I’d be telling a different story today. It’s very important to get to know your breasts.
I’m here and I’m so grateful for that. I still deal with the trauma of that perfect storm, and the dark fear of a relapse creeps up occasionally. I read somewhere that having had cancer is like living with a gun pointed at you for the rest of your life, not knowing when it will go off. There is a lot of truth to that. As a survivor, I’ve had to adapt to a “new normal”, but in spite of it all, one year on since my diagnosis, I’m healthy, my hair has grown back, I’m more active than ever before, and I feel so much stronger.
I leave you with one of my favorite quotes: “I will not thank you for this pain. I will not thank you for this destruction. But I thank you for this lesson: My demolition might not be on my hands, but my reconstruction is.” – Najwa Zebian.