When I started this journey just a short time ago, I never would have thought that the emotional and psychological battles would have been far more difficult than the physical. I wish someone would have said that to me on the dreaded phone call. Hey, call this surgeon, make an appointment with the oncologist and radiologists, oh, and by the way…maybe think about calling a therapist!
As women, we are so often the ones who keep things together and just figure out how to make things work. And I am one of the most stubborn and independent in our lot! I figured I would just handle this the way I do everything else. Do all my research, ask lots of questions, and make a 10 step plan that I could follow along with all the appropriate milestones and timelines. No need for anyone to get worried or worked up about me. I can do this!
Luckily I had a persistent sister-in-law who is a nurse practitioner. She insisted on coming to my breast surgeon consultation. I figured it would be good to have her there to help understand any medical terms I may not understand. At the end of the appointment, I realized I needed her there for the emotional support more than anything. I am so grateful my eyes opened to this so early in my process. It became painfully clear that I could not do this alone. I could not get thru all the appointments, to all the appointments, thru all the information, stock my fridge, walk my dog, feed the cats and vacuum.
That realization was more difficult for me than the actual diagnosis. I was a diehard independent modern woman who didn’t need a man and sure didn’t need people helping me! I had a little pep talk with myself and tried to decide how best to allow people to help. I started making a mental tally of the strengths of my closest friends and family, who could do what, who had time to do what, and who I was willing to let do what, etc. That chart and list fell apart quickly! Funny thing is, I can’t control all of this! People and lives and doctor appointments just don’t fit into my categorized spreadsheet. I needed to dig deeper and just let go.
It was scary and anxiety ridden the first day I let someone pick me up and take me to an appointment. I was sure they would be late and that everything would be ruined! But you know what, they were on time and everything went well. Imagine that, things worked out and I began to see how to let people help. My next test would be a big one. My surgery was scheduled and things were set. I scheduled the kennel for the puppy, my niece to feed the cats, and my first 2 nights after to be with my brother and sister-in-law. And she fought again for me to not go home alone after surgery.
The morning of my surgery we had a good deal of snow for our area. Enough snow for schools to be closed. But there was my brother, early and ready to go. He found me outside trying to fix the roof on my catio that had collapsed in from the weight of snow. He grabbed a broom and started cleaning the roof off, put a board in the middle to prop it up and just took care of it. I was so moved that he cared, understood how much I care about my kitties, and just took care of it. Once my niece showed up, the 3 of us took off to the hospital. I was still feeling so loved and cared for that I was not even nervous about the surgery. It seemed to have put my nerves at ease. I realized that I could let others help me and that they wanted to help.
I spent one night in the hospital and went to my brother’s late the 2nd day. I don’t remember much for the next couple days, just waking up with my alarm to take meds, try to eat, try to go to the bathroom, and drain my drains! I do know that my family made sure I was comfortable, had more pillows and blankets I could ever need and kept with enough calories in that I had strength to walk around and let my body heal.
Once I arrived at home, I had a few more hurdles and lessons to learn in how to not only allow others to help, but in how to ask for help. After meeting with my therapist 11 days post-surgery, she said something to me that has stuck with me and is what I try to follow every day. When I allow others to help me, I let their light shine! Humans have that inner desire and need to help, and it makes them feel good. So my new mission has become to help others let their light shine! In looking at it this way, I find it to not be selfish, but to be lifting up others around me.
So when the office wanted to help, I suggested they use a grocery delivery service, and they were so happy and excited to do it! The HR manager did a great job of picking out things for healing and things I liked! Lots of protein and some extras like grapes and cheese that are my favorite snacks! It was great for me to see that people do follow thru and can pick things out for me successfully without me giving a 30 bullet pointed list!
With a little more time and practice and coaching, I have become a master at delegating and asking for help. I’ve had my neighbor babysit the puppy, my 17 year old niece clean out the gutters and cat sand box, and also got my 52 year old big tough guy brother to vacuum my living room rug after we had our head shaving party! People really want to just be a part of the journey and sometimes simply do not know what to do. So it became my passion to tell them and in turn help them so their light can shine.
There are so many apparent obstacles and issues that come with a breast cancer diagnosis. The obvious of course are the mastectomy and chemotherapy side effects. Some looking beyond the physical aspects can understand the psychological trauma and realize that this leaves permanent internal scars as well. Taking it one step further, is the emotional growth that we can achieve thru this.
In the beginning, I was only concerned with how to deal with the physical and could never have imagined that was going to be the simple part. I have grown beyond belief in just my first 3 months since diagnosis! I have had my double mastectomy and started chemo, but the personal growth and changes I have gone thru far exceed any physical challenges. I am so excited to continue this path of personal growth and continue to learn how I can help others thru my experiences.
Lynn Reiten, was born and raised in the great northwest with her four brothers. She led the typical outdoor life, hiking, camping, and fishing. Lynn was active and healthy until diagnosed with Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in December 2016 at the age of 47. Because of her dense breast tissue, she decided to have a double mastectomy, February 6, 2017. Lynn continues her cancer journey with the love and support of her family, puppy and two kitties. You can follow her blog at Breast Cancer Journey Thru My Eyes