October is Breast Cancer Awareness month. In this guest blog post, breast cancer survivor Meredith Goldberg shares her perspective on the importance of making space to “just breathe.”
By Meredith Goldberg
There was a moment when the voice on the other end of the line told me, “I’m sorry to tell you this, but you have cancer,” that I thought for sure that I was part of a very elaborate prank.
Breast cancer? Me? I’m only 32 years old. They must have the wrong number. They must have the wrong person.
“Ms. Goldberg, are you there?” the voice on the line asked.
No such luck.
As the nurse began telling me what I needed to do next, the biopsy that needed to be performed, the surgeon that needed to be found, I stood in the kitchen of my best friend’s house, frozen. I should have been writing down her instructions. I should have put her on speaker so my best friend could have heard any of this info, but I didn’t. I was in shock.
This was the first in a string of moments during my cancer “journey” (for lack of a better word) where I was inundated with information that eventually just escaped my brain. And it was all information that I needed, information that was crucial to my course of treatment and subsequent wellness routine.
As I moved through my cancer “journey,” I found that this happened to me often. I would be sitting with my surgeon, my plastic surgeon, my radiologist, my naturopath, my whomever, and suddenly I was staring out the window with the “Farmer in the Dell” on a loop in my head. It wasn’t because I was bored; far from it. These were the people tasked with keeping me alive, the people making sure that I made it to my 33rd birthday, and beyond. I wanted to listen, really I did, but I became so overwhelmed on certain occasions that I just mentally shut down.
The argument could be made that I should have spoken up. I should have said, “Excuse me, can you repeat that?” and that is an accurate statement. But there is something about sitting across from a medical professional that can be super intimidating, especially if you are a person that up until the age of 32 had never even had a cavity.
It wasn’t until I had what I like to call “the talk” with my oncologist about my course of chemotherapy that I first experienced one of my doctors taking a step back. He could sense the fear in my face. He could see the tears streaming down my cheeks as he told me that I was about to undergo 12 rounds of chemo, 6 Herceptin-only rounds that would have no effect on my body, but that the 6 rounds of Taxotere, Carboplatin, and Herceptin that would precede the Herceptin-only therapy would leave me completely bald.
“Ok, that’s enough for today,” he said as he closed my ever-expanding file. “You’ve had enough. We can talk more next week. I don’t want to overwhelm you.”
He was a little too late with the overwhelming, but I appreciated the break.
From that point on, I learned that I had every right to say, “Hey, you know what? I’ve had enough.” And to my surprise (and delight) my doctors honored my feelings and took a step back.
At the end of the day, I always appreciated the sense of urgency that was applied to my treatment and the time that was put into creating my care plan, but what I appreciated even more was when we closed my file for the day, sat back and just took a deep breath.
Meredith Goldberg is the author of From Cocktails to Chemotherapy: A Guide to Navigating Cancer in Your 30’s, now available on Amazon.