“It’s like an exclusive club that no one wants to belong to.”, a friend once told me early on when I was dealing with the emotional aftermath of mastectomy surgery and chemo treatment. That statement still rings very true to this day. For any cancer survivor, fighter, or even previvor, we connect on a different level, a level that those who have not been diagnosed with cancer or a hereditary gene mutation can truly understand. Would we honestly prefer not to understand what it’s like to face cancer or the likelihood of cancer, absolutely, but for those of us who are members of this “exclusive club”, we are deeply bonded.
Since sharing my story through social media, I’ve been able to connect with other survivors, fighters, and previvors, which whom I’ve never actually met. No matter the person, place or correspondence, I feel deeply touched by their plights. Many are still fighting daily (and may never obtain remission status). Some are in recovery phase, starting to embrace and reflect the challenges they’ve faced. Some are just learning of their BRCA or cancer status, awaiting mastectomies, oophorectomies, and possible treatment. All of these courageous women and I share more than just a logical understanding of what it means to face life threatening illness. There’s a kinship, a type of spiritual connection. At least from my side, I feel there’s an unspoken understanding each one of us hold that doesn’t need clarification among our community, one that truly bonds us for life.
There’s definitely been a sense of heaviness or a hovering cloud that follows me after diagnosis. Truth is, once you’ve had cancer, your life will simply never be the same. My cancer was found relatively early and chances of survival are high, but like for many others, the reality of being sick hit me hard. There’s always that voice in the back of my mind, reminding me that I had cancer, and even know my chances of life-long remission are positive, there are no guarantees in life.
When I read stories of other fighters or survivors that are still struggling, I try to engage them as best I can, to let them know we are a team of supporters that are really the only ones to truly understand what we’ve been through and what we’re going through. Walk a mile in my shoes, as they say. There’s no greater power than walking in the shoes of a cancer fighter/survivor. To feel their prowess, courage, frustration, bravery, anxiety, fear, sadness, love, and empathy, it can be overwhelming. They/we do it every damn day.
I was saddened to hear about Sarah Haddad, a young 30 year old woman who very recently lost her fight against stage 4 MBC (metastatic breast cancer). I never knew her. I read her story online, shared by another MBC fighter, Nalie Agustin, and did what little I could to help support her and her family seeking alternative treatment. Tragically she never got that far. The cancer spread to other parts of her body very quickly. The only solace we, being members of the breast cancer community can hold onto, is the fact that she’s no longer suffering. But what can her story tell us about humanity, the preciousness of life, the deep and dark burden cancer fighters and survivors bare as they know that once again there are no guarantees in life. It can be extremely harrowing and scary.
I try to embrace this day, today, feeling encouraged by what I’ve overcome, and what little I can possibly offer to others who are in different phases of their cancer or BRCA journey. Tomorrow is always a new day. Yes, things can change in an instant, but those changes can be positive too, and when positive changes occur, it can slowly pull us away from the darker burden we carry, the heaviness we can sometimes feel all too often, transporting us into brighter, luminous light.
I am really trying to stay in that light. It’s not easy as you all know, especially when hearing stories like Sarah’s, but we have the prowess and courage within us that many simply do not have because we belong to that “exclusive club”.
Till next time my fellow BRCA’nites, cancer soldiers xo