Breast cancer is a terrible disease. So many women have lost their lives to it, countless are fighting it, and numerous others are still carrying the physical and emotional scars of surviving the illness.
Cancer is just one of those things that no matter how much you read up on it or no matter how much you think you know about it, if and when it hits, it knocks you over! When I look back to the time when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, there are so many things I wish I knew which would have helped me come to terms with my diagnosis, but there was no one to tell me these things. I am a lucky survivor and here is what I think you should know.
Self exams are more important than you think
Most women often think, “Oh, what are the chances of me getting cancer? It happens to other people, but it won’t happen to me.” Contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t matter if you don’t have a family history of cancer, or that you breastfed your kids or that you ate healthy and exercise well. Anyone can get cancer.
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Self-exams are incredibly important because a lot of lumps are discovered through them, even before a mammogram is scheduled. Some lumps might even escape detection in a mammogram and be caught during a self-exam! Unfortunately in Pakistan, women do not perform self-exams and there is no concept of getting a mammogram every year after forty, despite all the awareness
campaigns stressing on their importance.
Suspicious mass? Go to a doctor immediately!
If you feel a lump, or a mass, if there is unexpected pain in your breast, or if you feel something is not normal about your breast, got to a doctor at once! Don’t let the doubt fester, it is always wise to have a checkup and find out the truth than to be too late.
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Most women have no idea which doctor they need to show themselves to and so they sit at home, contemplating and wasting precious early detection time. Whether you go to a breast surgeon, or a gynecologist or even a general practitioner, they will guide you on what to do. But just go! Leave home and take immediate action. Don’t let the ticking time bomb grow inside of you!
Don’t worry, breast cancer is treatable and most definitely not your fault!
If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, take a deep breath and know this: breast cancer is the most researched type of cancer, happens to 1 in 7 women and in most cases if caught early, is treatable!
Also make sure to turn a deaf ear to all the overnight cancer specialists who will tell you that you got cancer from microwave rays, from eating too much sugar or red meat, or that you stayed in the sun for too long. Or maybe you got cancer because you were a terrible daughter-in-law. Instead, focus on what actual research will tell you about the cancer.
Talk it out
Make sure to be able to communicate with your immediate family, your partner, your parents and your kids. Tell them about your treatment options and tell them that you will need their support. Don’t sugarcoat how you’re feeling. If you cannot stand in the kitchen cooking after undergoing treatment, then you simply cannot. Women are made to believe that they have to be brave and return to their normal activities and as a result, their families take them for granted. Instead, you need to let them know when you need space and when you need help.
And there is no shame in needing help. Cancer treatment will leave you feeling exhausted and unwell and so accept your limitations without trying to play hero. Give your body the time to recover, be selfish for once and take things easy.
As far as “other” relatives are concerned, they will have one of the three reactions:
- Avoid the topic
- Treat you with pity and shed a bunch of tears over your “condition”
- Disappear completely, only to resurface when they know for sure that you’ve survived
Educate your relatives and encourage them to ask questions. Breast cancer is treatable and so they don’t have to look at you as if you’re dying. Cancer patients really do not need people to mourn them even while they are alive!
Put your trust in God but also take your medicines
Cancer diagnosis aren’t easy to digest but it is important to stay strong and positive. Put your trust in God, believe that He caused the disease to happen and He will cure you as well. However, just as important as listening to the Quran and reciting duas are, that is not the only cure. Spiritual healing goes hand in hand with proper medication.
You will also find a bunch of forwarded Whatsapp messages making their way to you with miraculous cures. Trust me, drinking the juice of 16 lemons early in the morning will not cure your cancer but will destroy your throat! Don’t trust the nutcase on TikTok who speaks in a fancy British accent and uses medical jargon to convince you to do ridiculous things in the name of healing. And more importantly, please do not fall for the trap of some peer baba in some random city who can perform magic dum on you and cure you!
Survivor’s guilt is normal!
Once you’ve completed your cancer treatment and are in remission, you will be hit with survivor’s guilt. You’ll wonder why you did not suffer as much as others have? Maybe my cancer wasn’t real because I only had to have radiation and not chemo? Maybe if I did not do this, I would not have gotten cancer? No! None of these things are true!
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It is also important to find support groups or maybe create one of your own! There are many groups on Facebook especially that are great in helping dealing with the guilt. Women who fought breast cancer are able to share their experiences and you will be able to relate. They might even be more helpful than your own family. Mainly because they will know exactly what you’re going through. Their advice will come from a place of knowing and there will be no judgement or expectation attached. Being able to talk to other survivors is also a way of healing emotionally.
Support systems need to know
If you’re the support person for a cancer patient, be there for them as they need you to be. Accept that they’re going through a lot and offer your support whenever they ask for it. Listen to them, sometimes they’ll just want to vent. Make it a point to stay positive around them. Don’t force them to eat if they don’t want to, don’t treat them like a cripple either. Just be there for them.
Written by Andaleeb Zuberi, a breast cancer survivor