I’m so sorry. I’m so, so sorry. Everyone around you is in shock … YOU are in shock. You’ve just heard those fateful words, “It is cancer.” There’s a part of you that wants to hide under the covers, only coming out when it’s proven that this is all just a horrific nightmare. There’s another part of you that wants to “get it over with” – whatever that means. And there’s a part of you that knows you need to do something … but you have no idea what.
I understand. I hear you. I’m with you. I remember. Take a deep breath. Because there is help out here for you. You are not alone.
Nothing could have prepared me for that dreaded phone call in 2013 when at age 38 my doctor told me, “I’m sorry, but it is cancer.” Thinking back, the fear and surprise were palpable. I remember strange things about that moment: the pressure of my husband’s hands on my shoulders, the feel of the cold kitchen table under my arms, the heft of the pen in my hand. The most tangible memory, though, is the feeling of being overwhelmed. There was so much I didn’t know. Where should I start? Who should I call? What should I do?
I was lucky – one of my friends is a State Leader for YSC – so I had immediate guidance through that terrifying time. But even with the assistance of my breast cancer sisters, I felt lost. I couldn’t retain all of the information, and I didn’t want to call my friends every hour with new questions.
Then, I remembered that someone had given me a book to share with breast cancer survivors long before I became one myself. I rifled through my closet until I came across it. Emblazoned across the top were the words “Newly Diagnosed Navigator.”
This book became a lifeline. The Navigator divided the topics into easily processed bits and provided me with plenty of room to add my own thoughts and questions. There’s even a whole section where you can store all of that medical information the doctors’ staff asks you at every appointment.
Don’t get me wrong: this book wasn’t a magical unicorn that rid me of my fear of cancer. But it did rid me of the fear of forgetfulness. It enabled me to feel organized in the face of chaos. It acted as a crutch to my failing memory. The Navigator covered all the topics I was nervous about and all of the topics I didn’t even know I should be thinking about; from a list of questions for my doctors to the truth about fertility and even advice on how to talk to my kids.
If you’re a young woman under the age of 40 who is facing down a breast cancer diagnosis, reach out to the YSC community. Get your Newly Diagnosed Navigator. It won’t solve all your problems, but it will help you overcome them one day at a time. Remember, you are not alone.
Jenn McRobbie is a breast cancer survivor, life coach and author. She published her first book in March 2015: Why is She Acting So Weird? A Guide to Cultivating Closeness When a Friend is in Crisis. The book reflects her experiences interacting with friends after diagnosis and during treatment. Jenn believes that friends are crucial to successfully navigating a crisis, so she developed the guide she wished had existed when she was diagnosed. It is her treatise on empowering friends to rise and lift each other during a crisis. Learn more about Jenn.