Learning to let others help me through a mastectomy
Erika Archer Lewis
The importance of laughter grows even greater when life gets heavy, although it can be hard to see the need for it when you're right in the thick of things. Life can feel overwhelming.
I'm usually private about health matters, and tend to keep troublesome life events bottled up inside until I have them all figured out. But, in this case, I knew immediately that the situation was bigger than me. I had just found out that I carried the BRCA1 genetic mutation, putting me at greater risk for breast cancer and ovarian cancer. I was about to undergo a prophylactic double mastectomy, and I had an overwhelming urge to reach out to people in all areas of my life.
What happened when I opened up
What happened because of it was truly amazing. Almost everyone I crossed paths with for a few months had a story they wanted to share. Sometimes it was their own story, sometimes a friend's story, and some people needed to talk about the mother or grandmother they had lost to breast cancer.
Each interaction had something in common: people with huge hearts who wanted to share when they sensed my pain or struggle. People want to know and want to help. For the first time in my life, it felt incredibly right to let people help, and in turn, I could help them heal by listening.
Before this, I had no idea that we do not have to face challenges alone. In fact, you shouldn't even try to do that. When others have charted this difficult course before you, it's a gift to them to share their story. Don't deny them and don't deny yourself these gifts. After all, you are going through a life-changing event.
Balancing alone time and your support team
Life marches forward even when sometimes you feel paralyzed with emotion and thought. Some days there's nothing I can think of except 'what if' or 'why' or 'why me.' Other days, the last thing I want to think of are my boobs! I suppose it's our psyche's odd way of keeping us balanced? I learned quickly that there are a few ways I could find balance.
Keep your network in the know. Doctor's appointments and the accumulation of new knowledge happened quickly, and I realized it was important to find a way to keep the people who care about me in the know. It's important to find a way to let people be part of your process, but it shouldn't become a burden for you or create more stress. It's important early on to figure out what works best for you and your community of family and friends.
Reach out to your support system and expand it, if necessary. I won the lottery when it comes to an abundance of real, salt-of-the earth girlfriends who have stuck together for decades, a supportive family and a husband who is my best friend. They became my support group. But even if people have known you your entire life, they do not know what you are going through right now. If you need to expand your support base, or create one in order to have a group of peers that you can relate to during this time, it's OK -- and your support system can help you find those people.
Schedule time for yourself. When people invite you to meet for coffee or your doctor tells you about a support group, just go. Take a drive. Have a cup of hot tea next to the fireplace. Allow yourself to linger a bit longer in the bookstore. Go roller skating. Meditate. Cook the most magnificent meal for friends. Take time to do things that inspire you, even if it's as simple as scheduling to talk on the phone with a great friend who makes you laugh. Write a handwritten note to someone you love, or someone you've lost. How about a bubble bath? Find comfort in prayer. Keep a journal. Go for a walk. Feed the ducks. Try yoga. Draw something. Doodle. Sew.
Whatever it is, connect to that inner part of yourself that needs YOU right now. And, don't forget to allow others be there with you.