A Toolkit for Managing a Diagnosis of Breast Cancer: Interviews with Thrivers
You have just been diagnosed with breast cancer and you’re feeling helpless. You have a body that has let you down, a body you feel you can’t trust anymore. You’re now required to be dependent on a treatment protocol, which entails your spending time in places where you’d really rather not be. And you’re afraid of every part of this new paradigm that’s become your current journey.
Congratulations! You’re normal!
After going through the breast cancer experience myself, I was curious to know how other people had managed the journey. As a result, I interviewed 25 people to find out how they’d done it and these interviews are the result. They have been edited and condensed. The people who were interviewed were all interested in passing along information to the newly-diagnosed in the hope that their experiences would help others confronting similar problems. Some of those interviewed chose to pass along the information under fictitious names while others have let their given names stand.
Interview 1: Sarah Hughes
When I was 60 years old, following a routine mammogram, my family doctor called to say that the radiologist had noticed a lump in my breast that was 2 cm. He suggested that I see a surgeon to have a biopsy. I waited four weeks to get an appointment with the surgeon and then another two weeks to have a biopsy. It took an additional three and a half weeks to receive the result of the biopsy. The result was lobular cancer. After that diagnosis, I had a lumpectomy. I didn’t have my nodes removed because I’m a singer and I was afraid of what node dissection would do to my chest muscles. Sixteen weeks after my surgery, I had five weeks of radiation with a boost in the last week. After that, I began taking tamoxifen. There is no history of breast cancer in my family. I had four children and I breast-fed all of them. I was taking hormone replacement therapy daily at the time of diagnosis.
Tool #1: Use the power of the mind and experience the impact of positive thoughts
For the two years prior to my cancer diagnosis, I was so happy and things seemed to be going well. I’m a professional singer and I was enjoying my singing so much. Then in February I learned that I needed a hysterectomy. A couple of weeks after the hysterectomy I traveled to the Caribbean where, lifting luggage, I tore my vagina, which needed major repair. In July, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and in August I was told I had an incisional hernia. It seemed as if everything was happening at once. Emotionally, it was hard and deep inside me there was despair. I was afraid that my life was going to end and that I wouldn’t see my grandchildren grow up. At the same time my husband had to go through surgery for glaucoma in both eyes. It was a difficult time.
All of this sounds pretty negative but I want to tell you what helped me to cope. I tried to use my mind to control my thoughts. Prior to and during each of my surgeries, I listened to a set of CD’s produced through the Monroe Institute called The Surgical Support Series. They have CD’s for almost every health situation imaginable. I found the benefits of using these discs amazing. I experienced reduced anxiety, stabilized blood pressure and a quicker recuperation. I needed fewer anaesthetics and had no need for any pain medication following surgery because I experienced no pain. The discs changed my thinking and put me into a positive frame of mind.
They helped my body to heal by suggestion. I left the hospital earlier than was usual and my doctors were pleased. My husband and I also tried to stay positive in our daily lives. We would watch reruns of the Carol Burnett show, which made us laugh and enjoyed the jokes sent to us by family and friends.
Music also is a very important part of my life. Whether I’m singing or listening to beautiful music, it calms me and enriches my soul. Music helps when words fail. It gives me time to sit and reflect. I gave myself time to enjoy all aspects of the music I loved.
My additional suggestions for coping are: avoid all negative people; introduce some humour into your life; find your passion, your creative outlet, anything that totally absorbs you. I was amazed at the tremendous power of the mind and the impact that positive thoughts can have.