Journaling through cancer

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I having been reading the following personal testimony by Tesha Urban, a young breast cancer survivor on the Living Beyond Breast Cancer website.  It really resonated with me, and coverd so many issues, which I am sure will find resonance with many of you too.

Diagnosed at 34 years old, Tesha writes of the emotional effect and shock of a cancer diagnosis:

“The day I learned my diagnosis, I was in shock…. I was overwhelmed with emotions, information and decision making. I didn’t know whether to have a lumpectomy, mastectomy, bilateral mastectomy or reconstruction”.

Tesha tested positive for the breast cancer gene mutation BRCA1 and to her aunt’s and grandmother’s fatal ovarian cancers.

“In the end, my decision, and many decisions thereafter, was based on a combination of test results, advice from family and faithful instinct. On the data side, the evidence was clear: My genetic test came back positive, and there was a 20 percent risk of getting another breast cancer within five years. Advice from family members reinforced the need to be aggressive with my surgery and treatment. I considered their thoughts, yet I still felt this was a very personal decision. My memories of my aunt’s and grandmother’s diagnoses at age 40 validated my instincts.” 

She writes honestly about the effect her diagnosis and treament had on her relationship with her boyfriend:

“I was single but in love with someone I had known for several years…Though it took several days before he came to visit after my diagnosis, my boyfriend helped me through the initial trauma. I shared my fears, including my concern about fertility loss. I knew chemotherapy could kick me into menopause, and even if it didn’t, I was getting an oophorectomy because I knew I was predisposed to developing ovarian cancer. I asked him if he would consider donating his sperm so I could fertilize my eggs and have a child someday. But his silence—and absence thereafter—gave me my answer. Maybe he couldn’t handle my situation, or maybe he wasn’t in love with me. Either way, I didn’t have time for an empty relationship. We broke up before my second treatment.”

Tesha writes of how journaling during her treament helped her to make sense of how she was feeling and also helped her connect with family and friends :

“As I navigated the months after surgery, I faced many challenges. I kept two journals: One for me and one for everyone else. Writing my thoughts in my personal journal helped me to work through the emotions I felt with my boyfriend.”

She communicated openly at work and was lucky that her boss encouraged it. “She encouraged patience when my comprehension somewhat suffered during chemo. I remember asking a co-worker to repeat three times something he said because I just couldn’t process it. ” 

Unfortunately, I find this is a long-term effect, as I often struggle at work with the lasting effects of “chemo-brain”, so I like the fact that her boss and co-workers have been supportive. Finally, Tesha writes of the support she found sharing her experiences with others, which I would also recommend:

” as I shared my struggles, I found commonality with others who were relieved to hear they weren’t alone. It’s just not worth it to suffer in silence.”

Tesha’s final words of support is to remind us all that we while we will experience sorrow and anxiety on our journey, we will also find new strength and hope.  She recommends journaling your thoughts:

 “Listen to your inner voice. Laugh whenever possible. And live—not as if you’re afraid to die, but bold to live.”