A diagnosis of breast cancer is a life-changing event that can feel overwhelming, especially when it comes as a surprise. I still remember the day I received the news that I had breast cancer. It was a moment that changed my life forever. The news shocked me, and I felt completely overwhelmed. Fear, anger, sadness, and anxiety all flooded in. But, thankfully, my partner was with me and provided a much-needed source of comfort and support.
The uncertainty surrounding my diagnosis heightened my anxiety. I did not know the stage nor the type of breast cancer. The thought of undergoing chemotherapy and losing my long hair made me feel even more stressed and foreboding. I felt a sense that another loss was about to occur. As someone who had already been through significant struggles including the loss of everything during the war in Syria, moving away from my family, and struggling to establish a career in Canada I was overcome with profound sadness. I had just secured a job that I loved but my health forced me to put everything on hold. It was as though I was waging an internal war. I was grappling with the unfairness of it all.
Throughout my life, I have always taken care of others, the person who is strong for others. However, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, everything changed. Suddenly, I found myself in the position of being cared for by others; it was a complete role reversal that I never experienced before. I knew that I had to stay strong and be resilient in the face of this challenge. I had been through difficult experiences before, and I knew that I could use that resilience to overcome this new challenge. My partner and I discussed how and when to inform my children and family in Syria, and with his support, I began to focus on creating a plan to navigate the upcoming journey.
When I first received my diagnosis, I didn't know what to do. I wanted to keep it a secret, thinking that if I didn't need chemotherapy or to lose my hair, there was no need to burden anyone. But as uncertainty crept in and fear and anxiety took hold, I realized that I couldn't face this alone. As a mother, I knew I had to be strong for my children, but I also knew that I needed to seek support to manage the emotional roller coaster that comes with a cancer diagnosis. With the help of my friends and the support of my partner, I was able to navigate the waiting period and develop the resiliency I needed to face this new challenge.
I worked closely with my doctors to make a treatment plan that was right for me and I stayed positive throughout my journey. But there were also many moments when I felt defeated, sad, and anxious. In my search for support, I was fortunate to find a therapist who introduced me to imagery meditation. Through this practice, I was able to sort through my emotions and stay present in the moment, instead of getting lost in anxiety about the future. Additionally, a life coach referred by a friend helped me re-discover my life purpose and align my actions with it. Their guidance also extended to my daughter, who received support in focusing on her goals. At the cancer centre, the social worker provided invaluable assistance by connecting me with all the necessary resources. Their support was truly exceptional.
When I finally gathered enough information to make a decision, I knew I needed to share the news with my children. As a mom, it was my responsibility to prepare them for the change that was to come, but it wasn't easy. I could see the tears in their eyes as I spoke, but I didn't want them to worry about losing me just yet. Instead, I asked them to hold onto hope and to stay strong with me. With my support system in place, we were able to work together to face this challenge head-on. I made a promise to my kids that we would make the most of our time together, and we did just that. We found joy in the little things, like daily TV shows, painting, and cooking, and we navigated the tough moments with resilience and determination. As a woman with breast cancer, I know that building a support system is crucial, and it's a lesson that I hope to pass on to others going through the same experience. Together, we can find hope in the face of uncertainty and strength in the midst of change.
Coming next: How technology helped me navigate my breast cancer journey.
By Rana Mustafa