You hear the news, “You have breast cancer.” You can’t accept that it’s true. Disbelief and shock go hand-in-hand. Maybe shock causes disbelief. I remember crying before the nurse even said the words. I heard her say them. I may have asked a question. Most likely my husband, Jeff, asked them, while most of my time was spent trying to absorb the fact that I had cancer without completely collapsing in sobs. The memory of the meeting is somewhat of a blur with vague images of certain moments floating through a curtain of tears.
It’s important to NOT be alone while dealing with a shock like this. It’s hard to grasp any information or instructions when your mind is blank with shock. You can’t take it in. The questions about stages, types, and next steps blend in with, Why did this happen? Why me? Am I going to live? Although Jeff was upset, he was more focused, comforting me and listening to the nurse. He says that he recorded the meeting on his phone but I don’t think I could listen to it. Please, take someone – a friend, family member, spouse, partner, coworker – any kind person into your early appointments to help you hold it together and to hear, to gather information as Jeff did for me.
The feeling of shock mingled with disbelief for a couple weeks. I had a tough time deciding when and how to tell people about my diagnosis. I coped by making a plan. I spoke to my high school son, Tristan, right away and notified my other son, Jared, when he came home from college a week later. I had to take some deep breaths and get mentally ready each time. The hardest call was to my mom. I asked my sister to be with her. I knew she’d take it hard in a shocked state of her own. We all cried, we all got through it. I told my in-laws and other sister on the same day as mom, then moved on to friends, and slowly releasing the news into the beyond.
As I think about it now, this was my way of letting the facts sink in and letting go of the shock slowly so I could handle my new reality. I couldn’t rip the bandage off all at once. I needed that measured approach to manage my own mental anguish. It frustrated Jeff. I made him wait to tell people. It gave me some control over a small aspect of the situation, and I think that helped.
I’d advise anyone who gets a serious illness diagnosis to allow themselves time to absorb the news. Give yourself a break. You’ll have a long road ahead and a lot to deal with. It’s your body and your mind. Let your loved ones know what you need to do, how you need to handle it. If they love you as mine love me, they’ll understand.
Next up: Anger
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