The end of treatment was both exciting and terrifying, much like riding a roller coaster, and I found the finish confusing. For months, I had a routine and aggressive therapy to fight the cancer, along with a great team of doctors and the wonderful support of family and friends. Then, it was over and I had to figure out my new sense of normal.
Our world turned upside down in 1999 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 27 while 22 weeks pregnant with our first child. With no family history, I was fortunate that my obstetrician took it seriously when I showed her the lump in my breast. A normal pregnancy quickly changed into a high-risk one while I underwent a mastectomy and three months of chemotherapy. The day after my last treatment, our son, Parker, made his entrance into the world five weeks early, but completely healthy.
Once treatment ends, friends and family are often hoping to see the return of the “old you.” However, I wasn’t the same person I’d been before my breast cancer diagnosis. I didn’t consciously let it change me; but still, I was a different person. I was figuring out how to be a new mother, dealing with a completely altered body and facing my mortality at a young age. I had lost my innocence. I had also lost trust in my body’s ability to fight anything that might be lurking. After receiving so much attention from my doctors, family, and friends, I felt a bit alone when it ended abruptly. Suddenly, I was supposed to move past this episode and go back to life the way it used to be. That was impossible, so I had to find my own new sense of normal.
Finding a New Normal
It has been more than 16 years since I heard the words “You have breast cancer.” Visits to the doctor are less frequent, but the anxiety of waiting for medical test results serves as a sharp reminder of my new normal. Although having cancer is anything but a blessing, it has brought many wonderful things in my life. The greatest gift has been meeting so many incredible women and men over the years because of our shared cancer experience. I don’t know that our paths would have crossed otherwise.
My new normal has evolved over the years to include:
Being an advocate for myself and others – My advocacy training has taught me how important it is to stand up for those who are unable.
Paying it forward – It is important for me to give back and be there for other women facing breast cancer. Being a volunteer Peer Mentor allows me to help others when they need it most.
Finding my inner cleavage – It has not been easy, but I have learned to love the body I now have – scars and all.
Learning to take time for myself – As a Mom, it is hard to be selfish with your time, but I know it is important. The time I allow for exercise each week is a huge stress reliever.
Learning to not take life too seriously – Anyone else find themselves on the AARP mailing list after your diagnosis? I could share many funny stories on mishaps with my breast form before my reconstruction.
Taking risks – Having cancer allowed me to be more of a risk taker – including co-authoring a book with four “breast friends,” saying yes to things like zip lining, riding 200 miles in YSC Tour de Pink and having the courage to leave my comfortable corporate marketing career to follow my passion and work for YSC.
Valuing each and every day – Life after breast cancer included the wonderful surprise of our daughter, Emma, born in 2003. Life is not perfect and some days are harder than others, but I am truly thankful every day to celebrate this roller coaster of life with my family and friends.
Celebrating Cancer Survivors Day
National Cancer Survivors Day® is a worldwide Celebration of Life that is held on the first Sunday in June. It’s a day when people around the world come together to recognize the cancer survivors in their community, to raise awareness of the challenges these survivors face, and, most importantly, to celebrate life. There are an estimated 250,000 breast cancer survivors who were diagnosed with breast cancer before their 41st birthday.
Anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer knows that each day is a gift that often comes with a lifetime of side effects. While we are celebrating survivorship, it is also a time to reflect on the many who have been taken too soon by this horrible disease. Each year, breast cancer takes 1,000 young women – interrupting lives and dreams, and forever changing those who love them. My dear sisters, you are not forgotten.
We each have to figure out our new normal and the YSC Community is here to help. No matter how far out you are from your original diagnosis, you always have a home.
Read more about Jennifer’s story of “Battling Breast Cancer While Pregnant”
Download or order a copy of YSC’s Post-Treatment Guide to help you navigate life after treatment ends. YSC has guides to help you from diagnosis, post-treatment, long-term survivorship and living with metastatic breast cancer.
Interested in learning more about advocacy? Find out how you can make a difference.
Learn facts about young women and breast cancer and the issues they face.