I enjoy meeting new people and learning about their life experiences. I seek out challenges each day and practice continuous learning. So when the radiologist called to report that my breast biopsy revealed cancer, I approached it as the most important research project of my life.
I dove into networking, something I enjoy in my daily personal and professional life. But this time I was not driven by a business, career, or a social purpose; I needed to learn more about what my diagnosis meant for me and my family over the next few critical months and for years to come.
I was moved to share my diagnosis with a colleague. Only then did I learn that she was experiencing her own breast cancer journey as were several other women with whom I worked. I sought out other breast cancer warriors, doctors, family, and friends whom I knew would provide positive words of encouragement, honestly share their life experiences, and offer additional sources of information.
Without fail, each conversation included this offer: “You should speak with ( ). She had a (mastectomy, lumpectomy, othermedical experience). I’m sure she would be happy to discuss it. “Should I introduce you?”
I was introduced to women who chose to have a lumpectomy, radiation, and years of Tamoxifen. Some elected to have a single mastectomy either with or without reconstruction, while others opted for a bi-lateral mastectomy with reconstruction. Some needed chemotherapy and some didn’t. And there was no shortage of reconstruction options such as flap surgery using tissue from the stomach or back, expanders followed by implants, nipple sparing and even nipple tattoos. A few said they would make different decisions if they had to do it all over again, and others were content with their choices.
Choice was a central theme in these conversations. As one doctor said to me “Doing nothing is not a good option. You need to make a choice.” These women who came before me researched options, made their choices and moved through treatment and I would too.
I am grateful these women were willing to share their challenges and victories. Their experiences helped me to gain clarity about my options, their pros and cons, and the significant future implications that would accompany every decision I made.
“Should I introduce you?” is a life and soul-saving question and I hank those of you who asked. Your generosity and openness helped to shape my decisions and I hope that you will continue to help others.
If you are faced with a treatment decision, reach out to learn from other’s experiences and from the people they know. Here are suggestions for expanding your network beyond your family members. Have a conversation with a:
- Pastor or other religious leader. Even if you don’t practice an organized religion he or she can provide you with comfort and connect you to individuals or groups to help navigate your journey. Ask about cancer survivor groups.
- Doctor. He or she may be able to connect you with a non-profit organization dedicated to helping people in your situation. When my surgeons have a patient who might need support they connect her with Critters for the Cure.
- Trusted colleague. You may work with others who have faced similar challenges but you won’t know unless you ask.
Social media also provide a way to learn from others, share your stories and benefit from motivational resources. Numerous Facebook pages and groups provide support to women and their families in various stages of the breast cancer journey. Join the Ever Better Community on Facebook and search for “breast cancer group” to find additional communities. Here are some to start with: Living Beyond Breast Cancer, Breast Cancer Survivor and My Breast Cancer Sisters.