Last October, my baby girl was just learning how to sit up. This October, she is running around. Last October, I had, what seemed to me, two normal breasts. This October, I have a fading scar across one, which is smaller than the other, and a pad sewn into one side of my bra to give the illusion of evenness. Last October, I was a new mom learning the ropes of parenting. This October, I am a more seasoned parent. Last October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month had barely any meaning to me. This October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month is a time for reflection about how this disease changed the way I see life and, in turn, parent.
Less than a year ago, at just 32 years old, I was blindsided when I found out that I was living with cancerous cells in my right breast. Never did I envision this happening to me, especially since I was young, healthy, had given birth just months before, and had recently finished breastfeeding. I had just been on a rollercoaster of a ride — I gave birth to my daughter just months before, adjusted to life as a mom, and then went back to working full-time.
I endured a scary diagnosis process with a bleak outlook. Fortunately, it ended up turning out much better than the doctors expected. During surgery, it was determined that my tumor did not break out of the milk duct where it was growing, although it likely would have if it was discovered later. Over the course of five months, I was diagnosed, underwent a lumpectomy, and had radiation. I felt as though a dark cloud was hovering over me. I worked full-time and carried on as a mom, making every effort I could to enjoy my daughter growing from a newborn into an infant. I learned more during this short time period and gained more perspective on life than I ever had before. These lessons have shaped the way I choose to parent my child and the way I look at life.
5. Don't Judge Others
Unless you know someone, you do not know what is going on in their life. They could be dealing with any number of tough situations that cause them to act in a particular way. I plan to teach my daughter to keep an open mind when encountering people who are inconsiderate — you never know what goes on behind closed doors.
4. Be Your Own Advocate
Stand up for yourself when navigating the health system. My tumor was palpable, yet my obstetrician failed to feel it during my first breast exam post-breastfeeding. With my husband's insistence, I went back to my doctor, who sent me for a round of tests during which I was told I needed a biopsy immediately. If I didn't question my doctor and didn't listen to my husband, the outcome would have likely been worse.
3. Be a Friend
Certain people in my life went out of their way to be there for me during my battle with breast cancer. They held my hand during doctors' appointments, sent me food when I couldn't cook for my family, took care of my daughter and lifted her when I could not, and sent me gifts and cards to make me smile. I have something that I call my "breast cancer box," which is filled with notes, cards, and other reminders of the love I received while battling breast cancer. I saved these items so I could remind myself who was beside me battling this disease with me. I aim to take what I learned here and instill within my daughter a strong dedication to family and friends. Being there to support others in your life in thick and thin is a highly admirable quality.
2. Take Words Lightly
Not everyone was considerate and supportive of me during my diagnosis, recovery from surgery, and radiation treatments. It's difficult to be at the receiving end of off-putting remarks, which come out of people's mouths when you are going through a tough time in your life. You have to let harsh words directed at you, even in tough times, roll off without self-pity. Not everyone is kind and respectful and thinks about how their words impact others before they say them. As my daughter grows up, I will reiterate that "sticks and stones may break my bones, but words will never hurt me."
1. Live in the Moment
It might seem cliché to say that battling breast cancer helped me to learn how to live in the moment. But it is 100 percent the number one life lesson I learned through my experience with this disease. We are mortal; our moments are limited and, in turn, precious. I was so caught up in getting things done and following a routine that I probably missed precious moments that got whisked away. I try to no longer let motherhood duties like straightening up the house, washing bottles, and doing laundry consume me when I can spend these fleeting moments with my child who is growing ever so quickly. I now try to take advantage of every opportunity I have to play, dance, and talk with my daughter and bottle these moments of giggles and pure joy.