On January 22, 2013 I was diagnosed with invasive ductal carcinoma. If you’re wondering what that is, don’t worry, I was too. In simple terms, Breast Cancer. It caused my life to flip upside down and inside out.
The news crushed me. How could I have cancer? I am healthy. At the time I was training for a marathon and felt fantastic.
I’ve been asked many times how I felt and what emotions were running through me when I heard the news and the best way I can describe my feelings is it felt like I lost a race I was supposed to win. I know many athletes know what I mean.
You’ve raced all summer long and race after race against similar people and are on a winning streak. You feel great. You are doing everything right regarding nutrition, training, recovery, everything. And then the big race comes and something happens. You catch a crab off the line or find yourself in the buoys not knowing how you got there. You find yourself behind. You do whatever it takes to get back into the race, but nothing seems to work. You cross the line out of a medal. Defeated. The feelings of anger, frustration and confusion rush through your body and mind. You have a tough time trying to make sense of what just happened.
I felt Defeated. Confused. Beaten. Frustrated. Searching for answers.
Now I want to back up a bit and tell you how the cancer was found.
Since I moved I needed a new Primary Care Physician so I set up an appointment in early January. It was during this appointment that my new Doctor found a very small lump in my left breast during the exam. I asked where…she then had me try to find it. I couldn’t at first. In fact multiple times after, when prompted by doctors to show them where it was, I couldn’t find it! It was that small!
She sent me for a mammogram and ultrasound. Two days later I found myself getting my first mammogram. The Doctor came in after reading the picture and told me she couldn’t see anything. It was standard procedure for her to do an ultrasound so that was next and BAM, there it was! The lump actually looked a little like a running man. Yup a little running man in my breast. The reason I’m telling you all this is because so many women believe that early detection of BC can only happen with mammograms. I’m here to tell you that mammograms are not the only way. Mine couldn’t be seen right away! If it hadn’t been for my PCP the lump might not have been found to begin with. I was later told by a different radiologist (one who happens to be one of the best in the area for reading mammograms) that if my file was in a stack of mammograms the diagnosis would have been missed. It was only because she already knew what she was looking for that she was able to find it. That is scary stuff!
In the days, weeks (still!) following my diagnosis I read every book, blog, website, magazine article that would help me make sense of what was going on within my body.
I struggle daily with the how and why questions. After every shower I look in the mirror and am reminded when I see the scars from surgery. Every time I open the fridge to find something to eat, I think is this going to help or hurt me? When I sit down to enjoy a beer, I actually struggle really enjoying it thinking that will this beer push me closer to the next cancer scare. My days are like the 30 Seconds to Mars lyrics from the song Alibi “I fell apart, but got back up again.”
Sometimes I wonder, Why this? What am I supposed to learn from this? Didn’t I learn enough during the years I struggled with depression? Why now? Right when I feel like I’m coming into my own as an entrepreneur/ personal coach. Right as my husband and I are excited about the new life we have begun in California. Right when we are ready to start a family. Why?
Hurt. Afraid. Wounded. Confused. Scared. Mislead. Did I do something wrong? Is this something from a past life come back to resolve? WTF???
I know someday I’ll be able to write about how cancer has changed my life and I found my purpose. But for now, I’m can only write about how it has changed and impacted my life. My purpose post cancer…that is still to be found.
I share these thoughts with you not to have you feel sorry for me, but to share my cancer story. It isn’t just about going through surgery, chemo and radiation then moving on. There is more, so much more. I know others have experienced this on so many different levels.
As an athlete who prides herself on taking care of her body this has been a major blow. How do I trust my body again?
What I have decided to do is write, read, run and row when I feel good, get on the mat when I am willing and simply heal one day at a time.
So I leave you with a video of Alibi by 30StoM. (I like the album cut of this song better.)
Pamela Besteman, co-founder of Beat Cancer Boat Club, is a Rower, Runner, Coach, Yogi & Cancer Thriver. She helps rowers, coxswains and coaches take their training & racing to the next level with the Yoga Edge.