Taking Back Control

The hardest part of cancer is knowing it’s there. You are reminded of it in the smallest of details along the way, details you never anticipate having to make part of your everyday experience with cancer.⁠

Walking into my first mammogram, I felt glad that I was taking a proactive approach to my health. I was 40. Leaving that appointment felt very different. I felt this heaviness I hadn’t felt before. The nurses do their best job telling you that after your first appointment, women typically get called back for a follow up, and not to worry. For the next week, I worried. I was called back in for a biopsy and, still, tried not to worry. I received my diagnosis on February 27, 2020, stage 1a IDC, HER2-positive. I was broken. Shock doesn’t even begin to describe the feeling I felt when the doctor called me to tell me the news. I was in such disbelief that all I could do was ask him to say it again, about 5 times. I kept asking him to repeat it. Almost as if when he said it again, he would say, “Oh I’m sorry, I made a mistake.”

The thing about receiving a diagnosis like this is that you are thrown into autopilot. It’s an out of body experience. As you begin making decisions, scheduling appointments, and creating plans, it’s as if you are looking down on all these decisions being made on your behalf. As if you aren’t making them at all. So bizarre. Survival becomes the one and only goal. There’s no time to process anything else. In an instant, my world had changed completely.

In the midst of all the appointments, the one that came first was with my surgeon. We had talked on the phone prior, and she was thinking that radiation would be the plan of action. I could handle that, I thought. I remember going into that appointment with her feeling like a ball of nerves, but also feeling good about where we left our conversation. You see, that conversation was preliminary, but I wanted to cling to something that was positive. As if there is any part of this that is positive, my mind was hell bent on trying to find it!!  As I sat on her table and listened to the plan of what my treatment would look like, she dropped a bomb on me I was desperate not to hear. Chemo would need to be a part of my plan. All I could do at that moment was put my hands over my face and cry. Instantly my mind went to my mom. I had watched her go through chemotherapy for lung cancer, so I knew the demon I was up against. I understood how hard this was going to be, but wait, on top of that, I would lose my hair?! I was so overcome at that moment with losing my hair, because I remember the toll it took on my mom to lose hers. 

Being diagnosed brings so many emotions. I’m one of those people who doesn’t want others to feel bad for me or worry about me so the idea of “suffering in silence,” so to speak, was what I wanted.  I’m the one who “fixes,” who protects others. I just wanted to remove the tumor, receive treatment, then heal, and move forward. But when faced with the idea of losing your hair as a result?! That’s outward! That’s something the world will see! As a woman, I felt like my hair was part of my identity, like I was losing a part of me. This was one of the most difficult parts of my diagnosis, coming to the realization that I would lose my hair. In an effort to make me feel better, those around me would say, “don’t worry, it’s just hair, it will grow back,” or “they make great wigs these days!” And I love them for trying to make it feel that losing my hair was no big deal. They were only trying to ease my mind and worries, but I still felt like I was losing a huge part of who I was. After diagnosis, I had no control over my body, what was going on inside, and as a result of losing my hair, what was going on outside.

After the initial shock of diagnosis and the whirlwind of appointments settled a bit, I was able to process my diagnosis and plan of treatment. I was able to process the way in which I would go about MY FIGHT! I decided to take back control. Control of my thoughts, my body, my outlook. During the process of receiving treatment, while you’re in the midst of it all, it seems that the patient has very little to say about what goes down. We put our trust into the doctors, right?! I decided not to let breast cancer, chemotherapy, or radiation take over my whole life. It could only have a moment (a blip) of my life, not the whole thing! So, I decided to control the one thing physically that I knew I could, my hair! I decided that I wouldn’t wait for it to fall out, I wouldn’t let it! I’d shave it myself. I’d make it into something I WANTED to do! For me! So, I had family over and we made it into an afternoon of laughter, some tears, but not stress. While my sister filmed, my cousin cut the length, I took a pass with the clippers (which felt refreshing), then my son finished the job! The day was filled with emotion, but it was also filled with such love, strength, and determination. It was the first time during my breast cancer journey that I felt present. I had taken my life back and it felt like a new beginning. I was ready to tackle this disease head on.

I am now about 15 months post-chemo and I’m having fun with each stage of new hair growth that comes my way. All these months later, I remember the words my family said to me, “it will grow back,” and ya know what? It still is! 🙂 For other women going through this, whatever you choose (shaving your head, wigs, hats, cold capping) take the experience by the reins because you are strong, and you’ve got this, even when it doesn’t feel like you do. — Amy

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