No woman ever wants to hear the words "It's breast cancer." And certainly no one expects to hear those words in her 30s.
At 37 years old, I was a mom of three young children aged two, three and six. Life was full, loud and busy! I ate healthily, snuck in exercise whenever I could, volunteered in my community, and enjoyed time with my husband and friends. All of my relatives had lived long, cancer-free lives, and I assumed the same would be true for me. Life was rolling along the way it was supposed to.
One evening I attended a Rethink Breast Cancer fundraiser with some friends -- simply for a fun night out for a good cause. Rethink is a Canadian charity that works specifically with younger women diagnosed with breast cancer. We had a great time but something that Rethink's founder and director, MJ DeCoteau, said that night in her speech resonated with me.
I went home and checked my breasts. I found a lump. After several weeks of tests it was confirmed to be breast cancer. Over the next year, I had a mastectomy, six rounds of chemotherapy, five weeks of radiation, 17 doses of Herceptin (a specialized drug given intravenously) and four years later I am still on a daily pill of Tamoxifen.
While I knew the surgeons and oncologists were taking care of my physical needs, I truly struggled emotionally. I needed to find support systems that could help me manage my fears, and in particular, as a mom with a young family, I needed to learn how to help my family cope as well.
During treatment, I became involved in Rethink's various support systems. I was amazed at how helpful it was to talk to other young women who "got" what I was going through -- and had the same fears as me. Having friends along the way made my own journey much more manageable and much less isolating.
So how do you go about finding support that suits your needs? Here are a few places to start:
- First stop for younger women affected by breast cancer is Rethink Breast Cancer. Their website outlines their various peer support programs, Live Laugh Learn monthly gatherings and their Support Saturday family programs. They also have an extensive list of nation-wide resources that is updated regularly.
- Your local hospital may run various support groups, offer counseling or provide child life specialists. Take time to read the pamphlets and bulletin boards. Many hospitals also have libraries with helpful resources.
- The Canadian Breast Cancer Network offers on-line information and resources, including a separate section for younger women.
- The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation provides resources as well as regionally-based information.
- Caring Voices is an on-line resource with chat rooms and forums for women with breast cancer.
- TellHer2.ca is a website specifically for women diagnosed with Her2+ breast cancer. There is an opportunity to post your story as well as read about other women facing this type of breast cancer.
- Young Adult Cancer Canada is an organization that provides information and opportunities for young people affected by cancer to connect on-line.
- Wellspring is a not-for-profit organization that offers programs and resources for people dealing with all types of cancer.
- Willow is another not-for-profit group that specifically works with women with breast cancer. They offer support by phone and on-line discussion forums including one for young women.
- The American website Parenting with Cancer has many inspiring stories and a great list of resources.
- Finally, if you still feel that you are struggling with your diagnosis and need further assistance, ask your medical provider for a reference to an appropriate therapist. There are people that can help.
Looking back, I realize that I have tapped in to various aspects of every support system listed above, and they have all filled a different need at different times of my treatment and beyond. The emotional aspects of breast cancer extend well past the treatment period, and while I call myself a "survivor" now, I continue to seek out support when I need it. No one needs to face breast cancer alone.