There are moments in life that are simply unforgettable. Some of these moments are filled with joy, belly laughs, and contagious happiness. On the contrary, there are other moments when you cry enough tears to fill Niagara Falls and think to yourself, “This must be a bad dream, certainly it will be over soon.” Although we hope that life is filled with everything but the moments of tears and immense sadness, these moments have the ability to influence how purposefully we live our lives. The moments when we feel like we physically cannot move or breathe are the ones forging us for greatness.
My name is Elisa DiMeo and I am a 25-year-old woman in active treatment for stage 1A triple positive breast cancer. Although breast cancer runs on my maternal side of the family, I am the youngest in the family to be diagnosed. In March of this year, during a self-breast exam, I found a lump in my right breast. Being that I am a nurse, whenever I feel or experience something abnormal with my body I tend to push it aside because I think to myself, “Girlfriend, you are totally overreacting.” Although I wish the lump was a figment of my imagination on July 10, I received a call from the breast specialist telling me that the pathology report results were back, and sure as shit, the lump was cancerous. As I am sure many of the women reading this blog post can relate, once I heard the words “cancer” the remainder of what the breast specialist said to me on the phone was a blur. I just remember thinking to myself, “Okay, this is no problem I will have surgery and then go back to work. I caught it extremely early.”
Well, I couldn’t have been more wrong. Due to the type of breast cancer I have and my age my care team chose to be more aggressive, so chemotherapy had to be part of the treatment plan. The day I found out I had to have chemotherapy was worse than the day I found out I had breast cancer. I remember lying in bed pondering how I would possibly have the strength to move forward in my journey being that chemotherapy has a tendency to affect ovarian function, therefore potentially affecting my ability to conceive a baby and have a family of my own. Ever since I was a little girl, I dreamed of having a family of my own. Since faith influences a large part of my life, I prayed daily for my future husband and children (and still do). Suddenly hearing that this treatment plan could rob me of that dream was earth shattering to me. I was paralyzed by pain and fear in this moment because for so many years I imagined my life going down a certain track. What I have come to realize though, through my journey of freezing my eggs and chemotherapy, is that life is not packaged up in a perfectly silver square box with a red ribbon.
A few days went by of me laying in bed feeling sorry for myself and then I realized two things: first, I was really good at throwing myself a pity party and the second was it’s time to tackle this season of life and I cannot do that from this bed (although there were days I wish I could). I do believe it is important to allow yourself to feel whatever emotions you feel in the moment you found out your life would be forever changed, that is a fundamental part of the coping process. However, at some point you have to stop feeling sorry for yourself and acknowledge that this curveball has been thrown your way to make you destined for greatness. There are some things in life that are completely out of your control, like getting a cancer diagnosis, but what you can control is how you respond and rise to the occasion. Once I finished crying that ridiculous amount of tears, I used all of that energy into managing my diagnosis. My days consisted of making phone calls, arguing with the insurance company, ordering wigs, researching surgical techniques, reading other women’s blog posts …the list is really endless. There were days that I met with multiple physicians, interviewing them about their surgical approach and their “why” for treating cancer patients. I made it a point to daily cross at least one thing off my list in order to gain a greater understanding of my diagnosis and this disease. I can’t take all the credit though; my mom came with me to every appointment and was my scribe. Involving my support system in the process was crucial. I decided that I can either let cancer hold the power over me, or I can hold the power over cancer. Granted, there are days when I still lay in bed and hold myself a big pity party, I am not going to act like I only laid in bed and cried one time because that has happened numerous times. However, what I refuse to do is let cancer or the challenging seasons of life hold power over my head.
The truth of the matter is, you already have everything you need inside of you to conquer the challenging seasons of life. You have the grit, the determination, the faith, and the grace to hit a homerun with this curveball that has been thrown your way. Even though your journey may be different than what you had anticipated, it is still beautiful. Cancer may be part of your life for longer than you would like, but cancer does not get to decide how you write the rest of the story; you do. You just have to believe that you were made for greatness because that changes everything. This challenge of cancer has come into your life but there are an immeasurable amount of life lessons that manifest themselves during tough seasons of life. Brene Brown stated, “Only when we are brave enough to explore the darkness will we discover the infinite power of our light.” Although this season of cancer may seem dark, there are little beacons of light that can shine through. This diagnosis is tough, but every single woman reading this letter is so much tougher than cancer. Cancer will make us better women, mothers, daughters, and wives. Now that you have reclaimed your power, pick up that pen and paper, wipe the dust off of it and decide how you are going to finish your story. Only you have the pen and paper – what you decide to write is up to you. If it is anything like mine, I already have a feeling it will be damn beautiful.
Sending love to all the warriors around the world. – Elisa DiMeo