I have cancer, but I might also be the most fortunate girl I know. (Hear me out.) I am floored and humbled by the amount of love that has come our way in the last week and a half. I already knew I had a pretty superb group of friends and family, but you guys have gone all out. Flowers and chocolates and visits planned and meals organized and babysitting offers abound. I am so grateful for each of you.
And I have been bowled over by the response from nearly complete strangers who have heard my story because of my resourceful and caring network of friends and family. A woman - a friend of my sister-in-law - whom we'd never met before brought us dinner just because she'd been through breast cancer herself, with kids, and understands that I clearly don't have time to brush my hair right now let alone plan meals. A friend of a friend of one of my best friends happens to be a former breast cancer researcher (and current mom of 3) and married to a radiologist in the area. They sent me an email offering resources and second opinions and shoulders to cry on if I need. And I have become email buddies with a college friend's cousin's wife, who was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was just 12 weeks pregnant, decided to keep the baby and receive chemo during pregnancy, and gave birth to a beautiful baby girl just one week after our Bug was born. She just finished radiation treatments and is celebrating in Paris. And she introduced me to a group called the Young Survivors Coalition, which has been a godsend when my mind is racing and I'm having a panic attack that I might not be able to do this. The women of YSC reassure me that I absolutely can; they have the practical tips and battle scars to prove it.
What astounds me the most is how MANY women have been through this terrible, terrifying disease. The official statistic is that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer at some point in their lives, and it typically strikes around age 60. Of the dozen or so women who have shared their stories with me since I started this crazy journey, though, exactly 3 were over the age of 50 when they were diagnosed.
Breast cancer tends to be very aggressive in younger women, as is the case with mine. What was just an annoying bump I thought might be a blocked milk duct grew to be a 4.7 cm tumor and spread to at least a couple of lymph nodes in just a few short months. I had a little soreness in my breasts, but what nursing mother doesn't? It is sheer, forehead-smacking craziness to me that I can feel as WELL as I do and be diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. Another friend's cousin who was diagnosed in April said she felt the same shock at her doctor's office. "What do you mean, CANCER? I just ran 10 miles last weekend," she told me she said at the time.
This is not a club I would have ever chosen to join, if we had a choice about such things. I would much rather spend the next year keeping my breasts and my newly-highlighted hair and enjoying every minute of watching my little guy learn to crawl, walk, eat yogurt on his own. I would rather not have to skip the anniversary trip Chris and I had planned to Mexico in October, so that I can sit in a chair for 4 hours receiving chemo. I would rather be sure that we'll be able to have another child if we want down the road. But now that I've been reluctantly inducted into this group of women, I am so humbled by their strength, humor, vulnerability, courage and WARMTH that I can't imagine a better cancer to get, so to speak. To my friends and family who have encouraged me and introduced me to these incredibly strong survivors, THANK YOU. I hope sometime soon I can be that source of reassurance and strength for some other young woman going through this hell. And then I hope we find a cure so we can all stop going through it.