Over a year ago, I began writing Ever Better: Five Sources for Personal Growth, Happiness, and Confidence to share ideas and resources for staying positive, optimistic and forward-thinking. I had completed my outline, planned out my project and was on track to finish my eBook within twelve weeks. But then…I was diagnosed with breast cancer.
Since 1 in 8 women in the U.S. develop invasive breast cancer over the course of a lifetime, you have probably experienced cancer yourself, had a mammogram “scare”, or provided support to a relative or close friend. Through hundreds of conversations with doctors and other breast cancer warriors (my preferred term over “breast cancer survivor”), I’ve found that each person’s journey is unique. But when faced with a personal treatment crossroads or period of uncertainty, it’s comforting and helpful to know the decisions others have made and what they have experienced.
Here is a snapshot of my breast cancer and Ever Better journey…
Mammograms take very little time to complete, but I put off scheduling my annual exam for six months longer than I should have. With it weighing on my mind, I decided I couldn’t go on a relaxing summer vacation until I had it behind me. So, I finally made the appointment.
The technicians were efficient and pleasant at my early morning appointment and all went as expected. I checked “mammogram” off my to-do list, rewarded myself with an iced latte and headed to work with my peace of mind intact.
I didn’t give it another thought until I found a letter in my post-vacation stack of mail requesting that I return to Washington Radiology as soon as possible for a “further look.” Having had follow-up mammograms in the past, I was not concerned. Rather, I was annoyed about this interruption in my plans but followed their request for an office visit later that week.
The technicians were efficient and friendly as usual, but I sensed concern that I hadn’t noticed before. The staff seemed to stop talking when I walked down the hall. What did they know that I didn’t?! The appointment became even more unusual when the nurse asked me to stay a few minutes after the mammogram so that a radiologist could explain the results to me.
I had several years of mammograms on record so the doctor was able to compare my new images with those of past years. He showed me calcification spots in my right breast and how they had shifted. He explained that this is sometimes evidence of cancer cell activity but not to be alarmed because the majority of these cases are benign. He recommended a biopsy within the week and introduced me to a scheduler who explained the procedure and patiently answered my questions.
The radiologist biopsied three areas in my right breast and diagnosed ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS). The location and size of the cancer cells allowed for multiple treatment and reconstruction options. But first, additional procedures were needed to determine if my cancer was limited to cells that had been identified.
That first biopsy led to a breast MRI that included my right and left sides. That test identified areas of concern on my left breast, which led to a sonogram to take a closer look. And that led to a biopsy of cells on my left breast that had an unusual appearance. Those tests were ultimately negative but caused the radiologist enough concern that she suggested that I have a follow-up in six months.
While undergoing these tests, I interviewed and selected a breast surgeon and a plastic surgeon and had discussions with multiple doctors, my husband, family members, friends who had experienced breast cancer and other cancer warriors whom I had never met, but were open to discussing their experiences. Ultimately, I made the decision to have a bi-lateral mastectomy followed by reconstructive surgery.
Now, less than a year after my diagnosis, with two major surgeries behind me, I know that I took the best course of action for my situation. I’ve been given a 1% chance of breast cancer recurrence, I am pleased with the reconstruction results, and am working on building my upper body strength to surpass where it was last year.
I am grateful for my doctors, my family, friends and colleagues who were always supportive, and the many medical professionals that helped me along the way.
What about Ever Better?!
I never put completion of my eBook on hold, but I progressed at a much slower pace. My breast cancer journey gave me an opportunity to try my suggestions for personal growth, happiness, and confidence in a higher-stakes, real-life environment than those I had experienced before. The resources I used to stay optimistic through every other day of my life were the same ones that helped me through this crisis. Before my diagnosis, the ritual of exercising in the morning while listening to a podcast helped me approach each day with a positive outlook and continued to do so through my cancer journey.
Through podcasts such as The Good Life Project, Joel Osteen and The Tim Ferriss Show, I’ve found inspiration and strength from entrepreneurs, authors, corporate managers, religious leaders, athletes, celebrities, chess champions, musicians, and chefs. I share how to find and use these resources in my eBook, Ever Better: Five Sources for Personal Growth, Happiness and Confidence. Once it’s published on Amazon.com, I will be giving away a limited number of free copies.
In addition to podcasts, I’ve relied on other sources for motivation and wisdom: massive open online courses (MOOCs), TED talks, frequent library visits, and evolving media. In the book, I’ll explain how I use each of these and how you can too.
The resources in Ever Better can help navigate a health journey like breast cancer (whether you’re on the receiving end of the diagnosis or supporting someone who is), a challenging professional situation, a family issue, or just daily life.
Through this blog, I’ll continue to share resources that I’ve found and that members of the Ever Better community recommend. I hope that you’ll contribute your ideas! I’m on the lookout for suggestions and resources that will help others navigate their personal journeys with success and positive spirit. If you’d like to remain confidential, just let me know.
Here are three ways to get in touch:
- Share on Facebook in the EverBetterU community
- Tweet to @EverBetterU
- Send me an email at info@EverBetterU dot com