I remember running in the Charlotte Breast Cancer Awareness/Fundraiser 5k when I was 24 years old. A friend of mine was an avid runner and I somehow got talked into tagging along. It was fun to run along the backstreets of old Uptown Charlotte with my best friend, enjoying the fall air and scenery. I noticed around me the groups of women we would pass who weren’t running quite as fast – or fast at all. Donned in all pink, sometimes flashy costume-style pieces (like feather boas) – the women I saw were sending a message with their outward appearance. They, or someone they loved, was (or had) battled with breast cancer – that much was obvious. Other women we passed proudly displayed hairless heads, sometimes with pink glitter or rhinestone designs and the occasional pink handkerchief tied around as a headband. Those were there the real warriors, I always thought to myself; the women who participated in this run/event in the midst of their treatments (or perhaps, not long after finishing treatment). Man, what an awful thing to go through… and yet they’re still out here, showing their love and support for one another, smiling and taking pictures with each other. Celebrating.
I hope that’s never me, I thought to myself.
. . .
I remember the first time I knew someone who experienced a miscarriage. I remember her telling me as soon as she took the pregnancy test that it was positive and never thinking twice about any “what-if’s”. She was pregnant, it was exciting, and I looked forward to finding out if it would be a boy or a girl. That excitement was unfortunately short lived. Just a few weeks later she called me to tell me the bad news and what they had discovered at their first prenatal visit that day. I was absolutely heartbroken for her, but thankful that – as the doctor’s put it – “it wasn’t farther along” and that “these things happen when there is something physiologically wrong with the fetus”. I remember feeling so sad for her in her pain but thinking to myself, “it’s okay, because she will get pregnant again and it’s really unlikely this will happen a second time.”
“She’ll have a baby and it will help fix her heart.”
Yep… That’s what I thought.
. . .
Never could I have imagined myself in either of those positions.
Never in my wildest dreams could I have imagined myself in both of those positions.
. . .
I never knew October, my favorite month nearly my whole life, would take on such a different and profound meaning for my family and I.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
October is National Pregnancy and Infant Loss Awareness Month.
I have survived both by the time I turned 35 years old.
. . . . . . . . . .
I’ve found lots of reasons to hate the month that I used to call my favorite. For the last year since my mastectomy and reconstruction I’ve remained quiet and kept most of my experience and feelings to myself. Not because I didn’t want to share this new path with everyone who has supported me through the other dark and difficult times in my life, but because I wasn’t sure I could even handle all of the different emotions, myself. I have struggled in a way that I didn’t think I would ever experience after surviving child loss and permanent infertility. I had no idea that my depression and anxiety could peak again the way it did last year – especially after the very quick (and straightforward) diagnosis-to-survivor experience that I was fortunate to have. I was diagnosed on March 7th of 2019, my double mastectomy was May 8th 2019, and my reconstruction surgery was August 15th 2019. It was gone and I should have been ready to move forward and live (read here: the teets).
But, it wasn’t that simple.
. . .
I came to a point last year, 2019, when I couldn’t stand to read or hear the word “cancer”. I still refer to it as the “c-word” because although it isn’t as much of a trigger as it once was, I detest the word. I detest what it means, what it represents, what it takes from people and families. Now, over a year past diagnosis and surgeries, I finally accepted that the word was not the enemy… it’s just a word. The way it triggered me reminded me of the pain I felt after losing Robert William when my heart so badly longed for what I had lost that I couldn’t bare to even look at a pregnant woman or see an advertisement for baby supplies without breaking down. It’s so terrible to live that way, feeling as if you’ve been backed into a corner and that the whole world is out to hurt you.
I decided in November of 2019 that I would begin a new journey. This time, a journey for myself – a path that would hopefully bring me back to myself after feeling lost for most of a decade (read here: 2,922). In January (2020) I began seeing a neurological naturopath to explore QNRT (google it!), I flooded my body with vitamins and minerals and cleaned up my diet (again), continued therapy, started acupuncture, and finally began exercising regularly… again.
. . .
I’ve been open about my struggles with depression and anxiety (sometimes I feel like that’s all I write about anymore, but I feel like it’s one of the most important things we can talk about and normalize), stemming from PTSD after losing Robert William and soon after, embarking on the IVF/surrogacy journey in our path to parenthood. I was certain that I was doing everything that I needed to do to keep myself healthy and mentally well in the years that followed… truth is, I wasn’t. That much became painfully obvious last year. I’m thankful for that wake-up call, for the chance to properly address the internal struggle that I still face. I’m thankful that God has brought me through everything with strength and determination – and I’m most grateful that he has never given up on me, even in the times when I nearly gave up on myself.
. . . . . . . . .
When I was approached to interview for an article in Lake Norman Woman Magazine for their Pink Pages issue this year, I had to sit down and take a breath. It brought me to a reality that I have been trying so hard to avoid because of the fear and pain it caused. Then, after a few days of thinking about it (constantly), I realized what I promised God and Robert William in December 2011: I will always use my voice to help others. I even had “Brave” tattooed across my wrist to remind me in the scariest of times to stay strong and be brave, no matter what. I certainly haven’t felt very brave… I felt like a coward. I feel like I have been hiding for almost three years between Ayla’s birth and my breast diagnosis and surgeries; I had almost completely given up on “courage” and had succumbed to reclusiveness. In my home, avoiding people, friends, and social media most of the time, I could pretend like nothing ever happened – which is exactly the opposite of the way God wants us to feel. Every step in this process has been hard, tiring, taxing… but worth it. It hasn’t been easy but it has felt right. This was a sign – it’s time to start talking.
Every day I’m one step closer to the “me” that I want to be. Not the “me” who I once was, she’s gone. I’m learning to be okay with that; to not necessarily mourn the loss of that girl, but to embrace the new woman I’m becoming. God has brought me through so much and I know that I’m here for a reason despite everything I’ve lost and everything I’ve been through – and please know that you, every person reading this right now, are too.
Thank you, Lake Norman Woman Magazine, for asking me to share my story for the Pink Pages issue and hopefully share a message of hope and determination for all women battling breast cancer.
Please reach out to someone for help if you struggle with depression and/or anxiety and feel alone. I promise you there is always hope, always help, and always someone who cares even when you feel like you don’t deserve it.