How I Became More Balanced After My Breast Cancer Diagnosis
Life balance is a tantalizing concept. My mind conjures up an image of myself on a balance beam in a quiet room, perfectly centred and poised. This hasn’t happened in real life, given my proclivity to clumsiness. Even my mind’s eye will drift to it and I can sense that I’m about to fall.
Finding balance is an intangible goal that may seem impossible to attain. I’m writing on this topic because I currently find myself more comfortable with me, my life path and personal goals than ever before. This was a very powerful and unexpected revelation to have right smack dab in the latter half of a year that saw me diagnosed with breast cancer – invasive ductal carcinoma, grade III, triple-negative. To give some context, I had a very difficult 2018. My marriage ended in December. I have two young boys ages 5 and 3, and the guilt and shame that I experienced while coming to the realization that I needed to separate from their father took me to a very dark place. I recognized that I needed help and sought therapy. I now firmly believe that sessions with a trusted psychologist should be treated like going to the gym – a mental health workout. For me, it is one of the ingredients for successfully staying on the balance beam. I also started figure skating again after a 26-year hiatus, and hit the gym regularly for the first time with my work BFF and other close friends. These new commitments started an entirely new relationship with fitness that had me meet my cancer diagnosis physically stronger than I had ever been.
I had eagerly approached this year as one of healing and growth while learning how to best guide my kids through enormous changes in their lives. Figuring out how to be ‘my best self’ with less red wine. Then, in March I found a lump in my left breast by accident – clutching my sore chest after what I was convinced was a particularly difficult workout the day before. I’m 41 and thought at my age we’re more prone to cysts, but high five to my hypochondriac tendencies because I went to see my family doctor the very next day. Fast forward through mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, the lump quadrupling in size over the course of two months and ultimately, a diagnosis on May 22nd. I was in the chair getting chemo on June 7th. I went on short term disability in June and the company I worked for was sold in July. Happily, the purchaser took on all employees! My last chemo round was on October 18 (yes!!) and even though the tumour was aggressive AF, it has responded almost fully to chemo. I will have a single mastectomy in November and am crossing my fingers for a complete response. Next year may bring radiation and 18 weeks of oral chemo. I can’t speak highly enough of the incredible health-care practitioners that have formed as a team around me.
Even before a cancer diagnosis, life as fully functioning grown-ups is insanely busy and intense, and time seems to disappear through our fingertips. The demands of family, work, fun and personal growth are battling each other for the time due to them. The fabric that holds all of these demands together is balance. We need the challenges of life to keep us sharp and growing. We need the bonds of family and friends to keep us nurtured and held safe. We also need our own space as individuals. A cancer diagnosis thrown into this mix shatters all sense of normalcy and safety. We as cancer patients pause life to deal with treatment side effects while at the same time trying to move forward and manage daily life. We must also process thoughts about our own mortality far sooner than we ever imagined. While I have experienced hardship from time to time over the course of my life, the last two years have been the most difficult and I have come out the other side a stronger, more content person. I’m now more at ease in my own skin, more ‘balanced’ than ever.
The concept of balance in my life means that I’m committed to ‘doing the work’ to make myself better, both emotionally and physically. I try to be as positive as I can while also owning my bad days when I have them. My family and incredible warrior tribe of close friends have propped me up (literally and emotionally!!) during these past two years and I ask for help when I need it. I’m proud of where I am and how I have strengthened my resiliency. Last but not least, we as a breast cancer community are strong and pretty badass. I found this excerpt from the poem ‘The Weighing’ by Jane Hirshfield incredibly moving and I think it will resonate with all of us:
“So few grains of happiness
measured against all the dark
and still the scales balance.
The world asks of us
only the strength we have and we give it.
Then it asks more, and we give it.”
– By Heather Cody
Click here to find out how we are rethinking balance.