"I was scared I had breast cancer"

“I have breast cancer”.

It seems like a really simple sentence to write, but it’s really not. It’s the sentence I’ve practiced writing about 100 times in the past year, because I was, at one point, scared that I did.

For the record, I have been cleared.

It is a lump that I noticed a few months ago, freaked out over, made my peace with, fought with numerous medical providers over (because, you know, I am “very young and have nothing to worry about” – their words, nice hey?) and then, finally, was able to go for a scan.

Lying there, as the very sweet technician examined the boob that had given me so much trouble when I was trying to breastfeed, I could only lie there and wait. Suddenly, I was petrified that I was becoming my mother.

I am grateful for the ability to access medical technologies that cleared me of breast cancer, and left me with the knowledge that what I have is a cyst, not a tumour. It is a cyst I can feel, and as I type right now I can feel it, like a weird massage stone someone forgot that’s near my heart. 

But that’s not the story for thousands of women across the world, and that’s not the story my friend D got.

In fact, she had to write that sentence, in an email, in a card, on social media and she had to speak it with her own mouth. She’s had to speak it, and has courageously spoken it, again and again.

My mom had breast cancer and survived it. In fact, she survived it so well that when the time came for a mastectomy, she told the doctor “I have three adult children. I do not need my left tit. Take it”.

She absolutely refused to let it affect her outlook on life, and looking back now, I find that the experience of my mother actively HAVING breast cancer, didn’t affect me much, as her child. Why? Because my mother lived around her breast cancer - she accepted it and she lived around it. She did not let it define her.   

Yes, she did, however, die from cancer a few years later. But, for a number of years, she was deemed cancer-free.

It was only in her last months, where her very frail body really caved in on her, that she required help. Moreover, she did not accept that help happily. She railed against her final bout with cancer. She fought with it, even muttering to me at one point, that “I hate this... I can’t do this, and it’s me who can’t do this, not anything else that’s stopping me. It’s me.”

She fought that cancer and IT won, that time. But, even when she knew it was winning, she fought it.

That level of determined spirit isn’t something to be trifled with and, honestly, after all that my mother had been through in her life (including raising the three of us), I’m still stunned by how she railed against cancer, right up to her last moments.

I believe that this particularly determined spirit lives in every woman who fights breast cancer.

When I look at my family medical history though, I am still scared I will have to write that sentence one day. But, if I ever have to, I know I will write it and then firmly follow my mother’s own words and, politely but distinctly say, “Do take my tits. I really don’t need them anymore”.

Those will be words I may one day have to speak with my mouth. And when my friend D had to speak similar words to those, I could only watch in awe.

I saw within her the determined spirit of my mother, and I saw within her that same approach I saw within my mother – D chose to live around her cancer, to live through the treatment and live beyond it. D’s just finishing up her long road of treatment, and I’ve watched her, actively live beyond her cancer. She will be free of the treatments, the routines and the things that accompanied cancer into her life very soon.

D, you’ve been the subject of a lot of words from me, but none of them can quite encapsulate the moment you say: “I do not have breast cancer”.

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