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The Shock of a Cancer Diagnosis

By on November 10th, 2011 Categories: The Breast Cancer Journey

There are a lot of life events that you never forget and that become a sort of ‘rite of passage,’ after which you feel a little wiser and more street savvy. For me, those events included graduating college, obtaining my law degree, moving to New York City, meeting my best friend and then marrying him, moving to the country, raising children.

I never thought that getting diagnosed with breast cancer would be on that list of life-changing events, but it is.

Walking into the doctor’s office to get the results of the biopsy of my left breast on December 15, 2010 changed me. I remember my life prior to that date as a carefree and healthy 45 years. Of course, that’s not true. I am a worrier by nature and was often filled with angst about some or other issue in my life. But even in my mid-40s, I felt immortal. I swam too far out in rivers and lakes, went running alone in mountains near my house where bears are often spotted, and traveled to countries where I barely spoke the language.

When I hurried to the oncologist’s office for results last December, despite the palpable lump in my breast and the knowledge that I had the BRCA2 gene, I still had a certain level of optimism and assumption of longevity. I walked out of that office with the frightening reality of a cancer diagnosis.

A cancer diagnosis is a stark reminder of your own mortality.

For me, the fear of the disease was the incentive to take control of it. Fear is one of the most productive motivators. Doing something periodically that causes your heart to race makes you stronger in the end. For instance, years ago as a new swimmer, I signed up for a swim across the Hudson River. As I stood with the other swimmers, clutching my goggles, I began to shiver and my knees were shaking. I emerged from the other side of the river, a mile and a half away, feeling proud and a little stronger.

So that is how I decided to deal with cancer. Researching my options obsessively and choosing aggressive treatments, for me, was my way of confronting the fear. There are certain things that you can’t control relating to the lump in your breast. But there are many decisions that are up to you.

In the months to come, I will share with you how I was able to guide the steering wheel on difficult decisions relating to my breast cancer treatments. I plan to discuss topics relating to exercise and how to maintain physical health during chemotherapy and radiation, from my own perspective and experience.

My story is just one of many. Everyone diagnosed with the disease has a mounting list of decisions to wrestle with: mastectomy versus lumpectomy; both breasts or one; work through treatments or take a leave of absence; tell everyone about cancer or keep it a secret; wig or scarf. I look forward to sharing my journey with you, the Breastcancer.org readers.

Laura Wong-Pan is an attorney with Thomas, Drohan, Waxman, Petigrow & Mayle LLP, specializing in employment and labor law, and is a cancer survivor.

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