In our monthly column, senior writer and editor Adriana Ermter shares her personal experiences with breast cancer.
By Adriana Ermter
Having radiation treatment is something you can never truly be emotionally ready for. At least I wasn’t. The doctors shared the basic need-to-know information, but the rest felt vague, unknown and definitely out of my control. Of course I Googled radiation treatment and what to expect, but again, something was missing. Where was the insider insight I desperately wanted? Rationally, I knew there would never be a guide tailored to my breast cancer experience, everyone experiences it differently as treatment is unique to your cancer and your body. But after the surgery, after I was told I had Stage 1 cancer, after my lump was sent to California for Oncotype DX testing to determine whether or not it would spread, have the likelihood of a recurrence and what my best treatment plan should be, it was my turn. And I always wished there was a checklist I could refer to or a step-by-step action plan I could walk to make my journey into the unknown a little better. There wasn’t, so I’m sharing what I’ve learned along the way so that if you need this insight or know someone else who may, it is here for you.
- Freak out if you want to
Becoming an individual who survives a breast cancer diagnosis, maybe a surgery and is about to undergo treatment whether it’s radiation, chemotherapy or both, deserves to have a freak out moment…or eight or 20, I mean really, who’s counting? And how you choose to express yours is entirely up to you. For me, it was going to a dive bar for vodka martinis at 11:00am on a workday with my best friend. We made a beeline for the bar almost immediately after the appointment where I received my Oncotype DX results from the oncologist. I downed three cocktails before walking home. I wasn’t drunk, I didn’t scream or cry. I could have had a big old tantrum if I’d wanted to and that would have been perfectly fine too. The important thing isn’t what I did for my freak out moment, it’s that I took it. I owned it and when I did, weirdly, I felt more in control.
- I made a plan
I like lists and I like adding a little autopilot to my daily routine because it keeps me on track, purposeful and all of the stuff I need to get done, like laundry on Saturday mornings, gets done. So after I requested that my radiation timeslot be first thing in the mornings, I created a plan to ensure everything that I needed or knew I had to get done during the rest of the week happened. I boiled five eggs on Sunday nights so that I always had something ready to grab and eat before heading to the hospital. The hospital’s address was plugged into my Uber account on my phone so that on the days when I didn’t have the energy to walk to and from the subway station, I could easily order a ride. I picked five work outfits, hung them at the front of my closet and then alternated wearing them each week, because I worked throughout treatment. I kept bottles of Tylenol and Advil on my kitchen counter and in my purse to help relieve the blinding headaches I inevitably got every single day. I stocked my cupboard with bags of Goldfish crackers, the only food that helped with my nausea. And I kept a cozy pair of sweatpants and a sweatshirt folded on the end of my bed to change into the minute I came home. They’re little things, but they made my life easier.
- Identify your “vulnerable” person
I’m a fairly optimistic person and I thrive on finding silver linings and that sort of thing. But as soon as I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I was also flooded with dark thoughts. These thoughts and feelings are normal. I don’t know how you can have a cancer diagnosis and not have at least one of them. And they need an outlet. If I’d had the energy, I would have written them in a journal, but I didn’t. So I picked a friend who I knew could handle hearing them and that I felt completely comfortable sharing them with. And I did. Sometimes, he’d take me for a drive and we’d just listen to music or he’d hold my hand while we’d say nothing for hours. Other times I’d rant angrily. We’d have and still continue to have serious talks too, like how I want him to be the one with me should I ever have a recurrence and die. It’s not morbid and we certainly don’t dwell on the negative, but having someone in your life to share this part of your head and heart-space with is life saving.
Adriana Ermter is a multi award-winning writer and editor. Her work can be read in Living Luxe, Figure Skater Fitness and IN Magazine, as well as online at 29Secrets.com, RethinkBreastCancer.ca, Popsugar.com and AmongMen.com. The former Beauty Director for FASHION and Editor-in-Chief for Salon and Childview magazines lives in Toronto with her two very spoiled rescue kittens, Murphy and Olive. You can follow Adriana on Instagram @AdrianaErmter