What Being Diagnosed with Breast Cancer Really Feels Like

This is exactly what it is like to be diagnosed with cancer.

It has been almost three years since I’ve completed active trea

This is exactly what it is like to be diagnosed with cancer.

It has been almost three years since I’ve completed active treatment and this is still my reality.

The posting of this quote on my friends’ Facebook pages was so timely and accurate – I was sitting in the hospital between appointments to discuss my abnormal breast MRI results. Every ache, pain, or headache sends me into an anxiety spiral – Is it cancer? This is my new normal now.

Being three years out, cancer is no longer the first thing that pops into my head every morning (which is a win) but there isn’t a day that goes by without being reminded of it. From having no nipples, to the hip to hip scar on my abdomen to the pill case that permanently sits on my kitchen counter to the guilt I have anytime I eat or drink something that I shouldn’t because heaven forbid one glass of wine brings on a recurrence.

Cancer shakes up your life and spits it back out in a different version. A healthy 27-year-old who just graduated from law school should not be diagnosed with breast cancer. If I was unlucky once, why wouldn’t I be unlucky again? I was strong, active, healthy and happy before cancer. I’m still all those things now, so how can I keep cancer away?

Once active treatment is done, doctors want you to go live your life – but also not forget about cancer. Every six month follow up I feel like I’m pestering my oncologist with all my side effects. My oncologist’s laid-back demeanor and my recent positive scan results lulled me into a false sense of security leading me to request to temporarily stop my hormone therapy to start a family at my last appointment. My oncologist’s response was to tell me very scary statistics of my rate of recurrence. It’s frustrating to get mixed messages of “Put cancer behind you” but “No, you can’t quite live your life.” How am I supposed to live, really?

The first question I get from someone who hasn’t seen me in a while is “How are you? Are you all better now?” I don’t know how to answer this question. “I’m doing great. I’m strong and happy. Am I all better? No – I have awful side effects from hormone therapy that causes me pain every day; I can’t just start trying to have a baby like all the other 30-somethings; I’m terrified that if I start living my innocent pre-cancer life, I’ll have a bomb dropped on me again (actually that innocent life pre-cancer life is over).” But again, this is my new normal and I’m grateful for that and every year that passes.

Once you’ve been diagnosed with cancer there is a constant fear. Like the quote articulates, some days the fear is quiet but then you get abnormal MRI results and the fear is screaming in your ears. Turns out for me, after about a week and a half of stress, after many tests and appointments with many doctors, the lump they found in my breast was just fat necrosis from the DIEP flap surgery. So for now, we wait six months for a follow up scan and the saga of someone diagnosed with cancer continues.

By: Emily Piercell

To read more stories by Emily, click here.

 Emily Piercell is the Community and Programs Specialist at Rethink Breast Cancer, where she helps plan and execute Rethink’s support programs, manages the Give-A-Care line and regularly contributes to the Rethink blog. Diagnosed with breast cancer in 2015, Emily was introduced to Rethink through the summer retreat, Stretch Heal Grow, where she fell in love with the organization.

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