We, mothers tend to put our health, and self-care at the bottom of our priorities. My breast cancer journey taught me the importance of self-care and prioritizing my health. I will share in this article my recent experience with breast cancer, to help other women.
About a year ago, after my return from a trip to the US, where I attended an intensive course in baby photography. I felt a solid lump in my breast, that I didn’t feel before. I got worried and decided to have it checked. I didn’t go to a designated cancer early detection center; I took a shortcut and went to a hospital close to my work to save time. I saw a doctor who didn’t have experience in diagnosing cancers. She referred me to do a mammogram, where I was told not to worry what I have is soft tissue, and it’s not cancer. I asked them to check well, they kept telling me it was not cancer.
The lump kept growing, and with it my concern. But everyone around me kept telling me not to worry since my mammogram was OK. It was hard to believe that a 42-year-old woman with no family history of breast cancer to have it. After a few months of postponing, I went to a center that specialized in the early detection of breast cancer. Once I was examined by the doctor, I was sent immediately to do a mammogram, and there it was: Cancer! Bright and clear. To be surer the doctor also asked for an ultrasound after which she told me I have breast cancer. To give a definite diagnosis she referred me to a biopsy.
I didn’t do the biopsy right away like the doctor said because I was getting ready to go on a family trip. My kids were very excited about this trip, I chose to postpone the biopsy over canceling the trip and disappointing them. I chose their happiness over caring for my health. After our vacation, I did the biopsy and with it the final and conclusive diagnosis: Breast Cancer. When I found out my husband was by my side, despite knowing the results of the previous test, we were both shocked! We didn’t say anything to each other now but having him by my side gave me tranquility and support.
I hadn’t told anyone about the previous tests and the possibility of having cancer, except my sister Hanan. After the biopsy results, I called her to tell her, and her reply to me was: “We have to stay strong!” I was surprised by her using the word “We” to refer to something affecting me, and me only. She continued to use the same word through every step of this journey, she would say: “We have a treatment session today! Tomorrow we will talk to the doctor”. She was beside me at every step, she was my biggest supporter.
My sister Hanan was not the only one in my family to be helpful and supportive. My mother-in-law who helped care and cook for my children throughout my treatment and recovery, my husband’s family, and my sister Nisreen who despite being away was supportive all the time, traveled to be with me during the last few chemotherapy treatments and post-surgery recovery. And my nieces, and nephews who took on helping my kids with homework, exams, and all other activities.
The tough part
Due to being misdiagnosed at the beginning, and procrastinating the tests, the lump grew so big that it was impossible to operate right away. I had to take chemotherapy to shrink the mass so that it is operable. I underwent eight chemotherapy sessions, before undergoing the surgery, which also included a mastectomy. It was a difficult period, filled with pain, but I never stopped being patient, positive, and faithful. I had huge hope that I will overcome this. The next step in my journey is to undergo radiation therapy because cancer spread to the lymph nodes. Then I will have to follow a hormone therapy treatment for five years. I still have many steps on this journey, but I am grateful that the tough part has passed.
Advice inspired by my experience
1- See a specialist
If you feel that something is wrong, or felt a lump in your breast, don’t take a shortcut like I did, and got a misdiagnosis. Go immediately to a hospital that specialized in early detection and get a proper diagnosis. Early detection is key when it comes to breast cancer recovery.
2- Take care of yourself
Don’t neglect your health, put it at the top of your priorities. Don’t pressure yourself to please your family, believe me, you are the essence of their joy, they will be happy when they see you in good health.
3- Share your pain
Don’t be afraid or ashamed of telling your family that you are in pain, or that you are tired, thinking that you don’t want to worry them. Cancer can’t be hidden, and yet I chose to hide it from my parents, and my children at the beginning, as I didn’t want to worry or sadden them. Trust me, they will surprise you with how strong and accepting they will be, you will get a lot of strength from their support.
4- Ask for help
Surround yourselves with your loved ones, and stay close to people who can help you and support you in any way. Whether your family or friends, don’t hesitate to feel embarrassed to ask for their help when you need it. Having my family, and my husband’s family there to help me and support me in any way, eased a lot of my suffering on this journey. Their support was equally important to my children, who also supported me, especially my fourteen-year-old daughter who surprise me with her strength and support.
5- Don’t give up
Stay busy all the time, don’t surrender, and don’t be alone with your thoughts. I just realized that this is the first time I recount all that happened to me, I never dwelled on my illness, surgery, or chemotherapy until today. This helped me stay hopeful and positive all the time. My focus was on the end of the treatment journey and the destination of full recovery and never on the steps towards it.