I’ve always been the type to mentally map out my day. On a particular Thursday in 2016 I was supposed to get a call that said, “Mrs. Fernandez, your biopsy was negative” and then I would go on with my day. While in my car, I got this call instead. “I’m sorry Mrs. Fernandez but your biopsy was positive. You have breast cancer.”
While still digesting those words, I scrambled to find a pen. I scribbled “invasive lobular carcinoma” on a grocery receipt. I lost half of what the radiologist was saying, still playing the initial words over and over in my mind. It’s a phone call no one ever wants to receive followed by phone calls I never wanted to make. Telling my husband, my father, my kids was excruciatingly difficult. My schedule for the coming weeks was peppered with appointments with doctors and surgeons. I’d spend hours scouring the internet for studies and statistics. I consumed a lot of information in a short period of time, but nothing was more helpful to me than talking to women who had been through it.
Two amazing women come to mind, Peppy and Patricia. They were both beacons of light in a dark hour. They patiently answered many of my questions, gave me advice and a candid glance into life with/after breast cancer. I will be eternally grateful to them as well as to my friend Ursula, a cancer survivor of 10+ years, for their wisdom. My friend Tori brought me to appointments and took notes (that was huge) and countless others visited me and brought meals. They truly got me through it.
I saw a dear friend last weekend that is now a 1 year cancer survivor. She told me that I helped her so much when she was first diagnosed. I am glad that I could help if only in a small way. Another friend shared her diagnosis with me (and her husband) but chose not to tell her kids or her extended family. Yet another acquaintance blogs about her cancer. These decisions are personal. I respect all of their choices. Everyone needs to forge their own path however they see fit.
This past month, 3 women that I know and love were diagnosed with breast cancer. I am always deeply saddened to hear people’s voices when they tell me the news. I know their desperation, the unknown, the difficult decisions that they’ll be making in the coming weeks and months. I try to listen attentively, give my opinion if they ask for it and try not to insert my own story into theirs. I’ve done that before. It never works out because everyone’s cancer is different and therefore so is their journey.
The best I can do for them is to be present. I’m not a doctor. I only know about the situation that befell me, my treatment choices and how I feel about the decisions I made. It’s been 5+ years and I’m grateful to be here. Grateful that I get to be the person they call on for a shoulder to cry on, to ask questions and sometimes to simply be an empathetic ear.
I’m grateful for the forgiveness I was able to muster for others and especially for myself after my diagnosis. It’s amazing how in a split second you can decide what’s important in this life and what’s not. A cancer diagnosis is one of those times. It was a life-defining moment for me and I’m sure it is for many. Friendships were rekindled. Grudges were dropped. Work/life balance shifted. I saw kindness in people. Now, in the moments when I’m frazzled by the chaos of daily life, I need to pause and remember how I felt in that moment. Grateful to be here.