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What Having Breast Cancer Has Taught Me

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I’ve been back in hospital again this week, and of course it brought back memories of my breast cancer surgeries two years ago. It also got me thinking about what having breast cancer has taught me.

Thankfully, this hospital visit had nothing to do with cancer. I have had a toe deformity – a hammer toe – all my life, and finally, after talking about it for probably twenty years, I went and got it fixed.

The surgery itself was a breeze, done with only an ankle block, so not even a general anaesthetic. I chatted away to the nursing staff as my joint was fused and did not feel at all worried or scared.

This was all because there is one, big overarching thing that having breast cancer has taught me – I can do hard things!

Before having breast cancer I thought I could probably do hard things, but really I had not been tested. I have been lucky enough to live one of those blessed lives without any real traumas.

My health and my family’s has always been good, I’ve not had anyone really close to me die (except for Grandparents who had lived good lives into their 90s/100s), I’ve been with my husband since I was 17, and both his parents and mine are still together. My kids were relatively good and are now independent adults, and we’ve even managed to be financially stable enough to now own our home.

So there was always this nagging doubt in the back of my mind – if something bad did happen to me, would I be able to cope or would I crumble and become a blubbering mess?

Thankfully I coped well with having breast cancer.

And now I know that if I can cope with that, I can cope with pretty much anything life throws at me.

So after years of putting it off because I had heard how painful it was, now this surgery did not worry me at all. I knew the drill at the hospital, I was familiar with the sounds and the smells of the operating theatres, I was expecting the awful food (hospitals do not do vegan food well) and the sleepless night.

I also knew I had been through a bilateral mastectomy – this is just a toe – so it would be fine. The pain no longer scared me. I coped with that pain, I would cope with this. We all know, mindset is half the battle to getting through these things more easily, and there was no doubt I could do this.

Having breast cancer has also taught me to be a better advocate for myself. Or maybe I have just become a little more cynical with the system. I don’t assume that a nurse reads my charts and notes the big “Left Arm Only for Blood Pressure” notation, instead I am proactive every time.

I don’t assume these non-cancer staff know anything about Tamoxifen either. Or even notice it’s on my charts. I had to remind staff that it could pose a blood clot risk, which resulted in me seeing another doctor who prescribed blood thinners (remember this is a foot surgery so I am required to stay inactive for stretches of time – kinda like sitting on a long haul flight!)

Having breast cancer

I also found I was much more likely to ask questions. I’m a curious person by nature, but when we’re scared or worried or faced with people who seem to have authority, we often just take what they say for granted and the questions dry up.

I don’t only mean questioning treatment in a way that is combative or argumentative (although that has it’s place at times!), I mean asking questions to understand why you are being told certain things.

As I was being told to get into the gown before surgery, the nurse just said to keep my underpants on. I asked if I could leave my bra on. She thought about my surgery and agreed. It was just standard procedure to tell everyone to take it off.

While I’ve become more demanding in knowing what I want during a hospital stay, I’ve also become a lot more understanding of the staff. Apart from my four surgeries because of having breast cancer, the only times I’ve been in hospital was briefly for two easy natural childbirths and once as a kid. I did not know how they worked.

I’ve learnt about the different types of staff, from orderlies to trainees to volunteers, and what they generally do. I’ve learned that ward staff do not know everything, and that often agency (temp) staff don’t even know basics, but as usually more than happy to find out. I’ve also learnt that nightshift staff have some special knack of annoying me without even trying 😂

I’ve learnt that when lots of things seem to be going wrong – and boy were there a lot of niggly little issues during this stay – that it’s the big picture that matters. Sure my vegan meal came with butter, my admission papers were all a mess and the night nurse seemed to wake me every time I had just fallen asleep, but my surgery went well, the staff were lovely and I could not fault my treatment.

It brings to mind that trite saying – don’t sweat the small stuff!

So while having beast cancer is not something any of us want, there are positive lessons to be learned here as we move forward with life – and perhaps that’s the biggest lesson of them all.

Have you joined a breast cancer support group on Facebook but been completely overwhelmed by some of the posts? It’s fantastic that these groups are an open forum and all sorts of questions, worries and issues are addressed, but sometimes they can be too much. In fact sometimes they can be downright scary.

If you would still like to join a support group on Facebook but not be faced with some of the scarier aspects when you don’t want to see them, come and join Positive Breast Cancer Stories. Here we share positive stories, celebrate milestones and encourage each other rather than deal with the technical information >>
Click here to join now

Want to read more of my story? Try these posts

For some breast cancer information, click through to these posts

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