Trusting My Gut: A Black Woman’s Journey Through Breast Cancer and Pregnancy, Part 2
By Deana Jean
A note from Molly: This blog is the second of a three-part series. Click here to read Part One.
I turned 35 six weeks after Aubrey’s emergency C-section, two weeks before my last chemo session, 2 months before breast surgery and 3 months before beginning daily radiation. My husband Marc organized a celebration with 20 of our favorite people on a dinner cruise across New York City, and everything about it made my heart smile.
After 5 months of peaks and valleys, we still had a ways to go, but that birthday represented such a milestone for me. I was more than halfway through the biggest crisis of my life, being diagnosed with breast cancer, and not only had I survived, but I’d also learned what it would take to thrive.
If you and I never get to meet at a conference or retreat, if we never have the opportunity to laugh together or embrace each other in person, I’d like to at least gift you with some lessons that served as my guiding compass in the midst of crisis, with the hope that they’ll make your next valley a little easier to travel through.
1) You can’t make progress in a process you don’t participate in…say that again slowly
Everything I went through in my breast cancer journey required me to play or pass; kind of like Family Feud. From the moment I decided that I was going to fight AND win, I knew I’d have to play every moment full out. That meant being fully present, and most importantly not giving up before I could get started. If you find yourself in a similar situation, consider starting here:
Make it personal - from day 1 I decided that choosing my medical team would be one of the ways that I’d actively participate in my treatment process. I researched and spoke with each of the 6 doctors on my team and made sure that they all knew Marc and my mom. I showed them pictures of the boys and of Aubrey’s ultrasounds because I wanted to make a connection that made me more of a person than a patient. Anytime we were faced with a difficult medical decision I asked if their recommendations and advice were the same that they would give their mother, sister or daughter. I’m convinced that taking this proactive and personalized approach made a difference in the quality of care that I received.
2) Give Grace…this one is harder than it sounds
If you’re reading this and nodding, you’re probably The Fixer, The Knower and The Doer. But what happens when you need someone to be all of those things for you? That’s where you have to trust that all of the effort and good that you’ve put into the world will come back to you tenfold. How, you ask? Keep reading…
Do your best AND accept the help - As a very active career woman and dedicated wife and mom of two small boys, my routine pre-diagnosis included tons of multi-tasking and double-booking. Full of work travel, PTA meetings, sports drop offs, personal trainer work-outs, date nights, church events…the list goes on and on. Post-diagnosis, I had to shift expectations of what my “best” effort looked like. Some days it was taking a winded walk around the block, others it was sitting up in bed for 30 minutes before falling back to sleep. By acknowledging my limitations and my efforts, I gave myself permission to start fresh every day. That gave me much-needed space to heal and gave my inner circle the opportunity to lighten my load. It was a gift to all of us.
3) Find the Joy…I mean really seek it out
Even if you’re a person who is full of gratitude, putting it into practice in the midst of a huge challenge requires intention. When you find the joy in your valley, it not only shifts your mindset, but it also rubs off on those around you. Here’s one of my favorite examples:
Chicken Salad & BBQ Chips - because of the combined side effects from chemo and pregnancy, it was nearly impossible for me to keep food down for most of my 2nd (and all of my 3rd) trimester. Nothing would stick, and that was beyond frustrating. For some reason though, my saving grace actually came on my chemo days through the cancer center’s in-house deli. I’m still not sure why, but eating their chicken salad sandwiches during my infusions became almost like a comfort food for me. It actually gave me a reason to look forward to my chemo sessions, and I still grab my ceremonial chicken salad sandwich when I go for my annual appointments at the cancer center.
So, there you have it, friend! But wait…there’s more.
It’s one thing to learn a lesson, but what moves you from surviving to thriving is application. That’s a lesson I’d have to learn post-treatment, through trial and error, over the next 5 years...