To learn that both my mother and my friend had been diagnosed with breast cancer was overwhelming for my hyperactive mind. At first I was stuck wondering. I wondered about cancer, did I understand it? I wondered why bad things happened to incredible people. For Kayla specifically, it was so hard for me to process. I was in disbelief. I wondered how someone like Kayla have cancer? She was the poster child for “healthy” in my eyes. I wondered about severity, treatment, genetics, potential outcomes, and risk factors… racking my brain for answers. I imagined what they would look like bald and breast-less, and how that would affect their confidence and femininity. Putting myself in their shoes was frightening, but I wanted to understand. Laying in bed my thoughts multiplied. The inside of my eyes and center of my head looked something like the Windows 98 multicolored pipe screen saver (see figure 1). I eventually get dizzy from the jumbled process and fall asleep without coming to any conclusions. I needed answers, though. I knew that answers would help ease my mind.
Finding answers wasn’t as easy. Quickly, my wonders became my worries. I worried mostly about my mother’s and Kayla’s treatment progress. I worried that on any given day, bad news could strike again. I worried about Kayla’s family, my family, and my sister (since we were both now “at risk”). I worried about myself. Something about that seemed selfish, but I couldn’t help but worry that it would happen to me. It was scary. My mind gets caught up worrying, becomes fixated on worst-case scenarios and distracted from reality. Just like I needed answers to ease my wonders, I needed something to ease my worries.
So this is how I coped with my wonders and my worries:
First, I asked a lot of questions. It is important to ask questions because every case and every person is different. With my mom, I asked her specific questions. I asked her if she was going to lose her hair and her boobs. I asked her if she wanted “pink ribbon” flair. I asked about the results of BRCA testing, if her cancer was estrogen receptor positive, and the dates of her next doctor appointments. I asked about her lumpectomy, her radiation, the specific medication she was taking and if she took it that day. I wanted to show her that I cared about how she wanted to cope with cancer, that I wasn’t afraid of her cancer, and that I could handle talking about it. There was something about asking her specific questions that comforted us both. Answers eased my wonders and calmed her nerves…. Made it feel like we were in it together. So, ask questions, they’re important.
My more complicated questions I asked my doctors. When I thought of a medical question or scenario, I wrote it in my iPhone’s “notes” and then went through the list with almost every doctor I happened to have an appointment with. This is something I highly recommend. I grew up around healthcare providers, so I am very in-tune with my doctors. I cannot stress enough how important it is to have an honest relationship with your doctor - you have to tell them everything. Meeting with my doctors also helped ease my wonders. Science can be very reassuring.
Second, I learned to manage my worries. I like quotes. I think they can be inspiring. So when I was worried, I would Google “quotes about worrying” or search #quotes on instagram. I find myself going back to one in particular:
“Focus on the things you can change, and don’t worry about the things you cannot”
In reality, bad things are going to happen, and often out of your control. All you can do is channel your energy in a positive direction. I couldn’t control whether or not my mother and Kayla had breast cancer, but I could control the way I reacted to their diagnosis. Focus on what you can control, and you will find peace-of-mind knowing that you did all you could. Treat everyone with kindness. Be open to change. Don’t judge others. Respect yourself. Be a true friend. Try your best at everything you do, everyday. Be patient. Reserve time for reflection. Find balance in your life. Be honest with yourself. Practice optimism. Take care of your body every opportunity that you can. Educate yourself. I could go on for days…
I know it can be hard to juggle positivity with the demands and of the real world, especially when those demands happen to be cancer, but by focusing on the good can help eliminate the unnecessary bad. It is just as easy to be nice as it is to be mean, and you can ride a stationary bike while watching your favorite TV shows... catch my drift? Once you start living and breathing positivity you will find peace-of-mind knowing that you did all you could. Positivity is contagious. The people around you will be smiling and you will be smiling, and you won’t be worrying as much, it’s a win-win-win!
TL;DR (too long didn’t read):
When someone you know is diagnosed with cancer, don’t let it get you down. Educate yourself about their conditions, ask them questions to understand their position, know what you can do to prevent cancer from striking again. Live and breathe positivity. Make the world a better place for cancer patients, cancer survivors, and supporter alike!
*note from kayla: this is what i'm talking about people!