As many of you know, October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. We take the time to acknowledge those who have been affected by this disease and raise funds for research, prevention and a cure. While many of us may know someone who has battled with breast cancer, there are also a number of us who have come face to face with the reality of this disease and continue to fight for our health and the health of future generations.
John Lennon said, “Life is what happens when you’re busy making other plans,” and in July of 2009, I definitely felt his words ring true when I was diagnosed with a rare form of breast cancer at the age of 27. I prepared for the test results and told myself that if I did have cancer, I would only cry for one hour and then move on. I didn’t want to waste time feeling sorry for myself, and I knew that the only thing I could do was listen to my doctors and continue to fight the battle. I had just gotten engaged in January and while wedding plans were in full swing, I was devastated when I realized that our plans would have to be put on hold. Although receiving the news was hard, telling my family and friends was completely heartbreaking and I hated watching their reaction as I told them the news. At first, I didn’t want people to know about my condition because I didn’t want to be treated differently. Many of my friends couldn’t handle the news and didn’t know how to act around me; they didn’t know whether it was rude to ask questions about my upcoming procedures and treatments and often felt terrible for not checking on me as much as they liked.
While news of my diagnosis spread quickly through family and friends, I knew I needed to be proactive about the situation and let them hear the news firsthand. It didn’t take long for me to realize that communicating with them through my Share site was a solution during this scary period in my life. Initially, my Share site consisted of only pictures, but after becoming aware that some family and friends still felt out of the loop, I decided to add some new elements to it since it already bridged the gap between me and the people I love.
First, I started a blog. Whenever I had time to share new things about my journey, I added it to my Share site and included entries about my thoughts, experiences, and decisions and even described a few procedures in firsthand detail. I openly expressed how I was feeling, what the nurses recorded, and what the pharmacists told me along with test results. I described how my body reacted to the medicine and I shared my daily meals, my crazy cravings and if I was able to eat at all. I described the way my body felt; usually very sore with many aches and an overwhelming feeling of fragility. And while there were many entries of doubt and struggle, I also had a number of uplifting entries like how my husband and I pulled off an intimate wedding ceremony within two weeks, and set the date literally four days before I started chemotherapy. I have a huge family, and despite the fact that only immediate family was invited to the wedding, we received so much love and encouragement after they read my blog entry about Anthony and me tying the knot.
The second element I added to my Share site was a calendar. I posted all my appointments for everyone to see; my surgery dates, blood tests, PET Scans, and chemotherapy and radiation sessions. It made me feel better when a friend or relative would write a comment on my site, wishing me luck and letting me know that I’m in their thoughts and prayers. It was my source of encouragement and was a reminder that my support team was a lot bigger than I expected.
The third element that I added to my Share site was exclusive behind-the-scene photos of my journey. Since I don’t share many photos on other social networking sites, I included photos that you can only view through my Share site. Two crowd favorites were my wedding day and when I decided to shave my head after a couple rounds of chemotherapy.
I noticed that the more I shared, the more support I received, and it made things fun and easier for everyone to see how I was doing. My condition was no longer the elephant in the room, and communicating through my Share site was one of the best methods to keep in touch while undergoing chemotherapy in the fall and winter. Looking back, I’m now motivated to work on a photo book about my journey with breast cancer, using my blog entries, calendar and exclusive photos that I used to document my story. Now that I’m in remission, I continue to share news and updates about my journey with breast cancer through my Share site and will celebrate by participating in the American Cancer Society’s Making Strides Against Breast Cancer Walk. It is amazing how my little site became a portal to my world with breast cancer, made me a strong survivor and closer to the people I love most.