Starting this post off with a deep breath in and a long, calm one out. Okay… I got this!
Since October is the Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I would not serve you guys well if I didn’t bring attention to this topic through sharing my story.
I have written about this before, but never the full version.
I am so fortunate and grateful that I can share my experience through a positive, encouraging perspective because I know how many with a similar path unfortunately can’t. It honestly brings instant tears in my eyes if I think about how many lives have been impacted because of this one disease. I live in the faith that if this post would help even one person take action on something involving their health they know they should do, but haven’t done yet, my heart is full.
So here it is…
We lived in the US from September 2017- May 2018. We were hoping to get my green card process done with the plan to move permanently to America after our wedding in Estonia. Things didn’t quite go like that, but… that’s a different story already. At some point in the spring, I felt a lump in my left breast. I was a bit scared, but at a similar time I had a cyst develop on my forehead, that was quickly and easily removed, so I wasn’t too worried. I was surprised though because it wasn’t just a small bump, but a piece I could definitely feel. I didn’t quite understand how I hadn’t felt it before.
I told this to my at that time fiancé and he talked with his mom, who had been through breast cancer. I heard from her, that young women, who haven’t breastfed, often have tight breast tissue and might feel lumps. That took the pressure off and considering the US doctor visit costs and with more exciting things on my mind, I didn’t do anything about it.
We were planning our wedding, flew back to Estonia at the beginning of May and in the midst of organizing a big ceremony, reception and a family-moon to Mykonos for 25 people, the lump just faded from my mind.
…or having my best friends fly to the US and organise my surprise bachelorette/ birthday week in Miami…
…or my sister visiting us in Charlotte… were occupying my mind instead of doing anything with the bump in the breast
19th May, our wedding day was the most beautiful, emotional and amazing day of my life. Both of our worlds came together and united as one. We went on an epic vacation to Greece with friends and family, where we had a trip of a life-time.
After all of these major life-events were behind us and in June when we were getting back to “real life,” the bump in the breast appeared in my thoughts again. I hadn’t told anyone other than my husband about it, but for some reason, it was still heavy on my heart.
I decided to have it checked. Just in case. You know…for my own sanity.
I wanted to call to book an appointment, but the first hurdle appeared- I had no idea where to call to. To a family physician? Gynecologist? Dermatologist? Looking back I realize how little education women in my age (twenties, thirties) have about this topic. There are screenings for women in forties, fifties, but not too much information is directed to the younger crowd.
Somehow googling I found myself talking to a breast cabinet in Magdaleena Hospital. First I got an appointment time two-three weeks out. After describing my situation I got a call back an hour later and was assigned a time two days later. That was the first time when I thought- “Eeemm…should I be worried??”
Showing up at the appointment I had no idea what I am walking into. Fortunately, the doctor was super nice and first just examined my breast. She confirmed like my husband’s mom, that young women often times just have tight breast tissue, so it probably isn’t anything bad. Just in case she said that it would be good to do a biopsy.
They did the biopsy, took blood, did mammogram and ultrasound.
For some reason I have always been scared of blood and hospitals. So far in my happy, little, pink bubble I had lived in, there hadn’t been too many sicknesses, losses, so I felt very out of place in there.
The two weeks that passed waiting for the results I didn’t think about it too much. That’s what I seem to do- just try to focus on other things.
On Monday, the 18th of June I got a call from the doctor’s office and the secretary said: “Liisa, we have the test results, but unfortunately we can’t say these through the phone, can you come in on the 20th?”
My heart sank. It is the type of answer you are used to seeing in movies when something bad is about to go down. Why can’t they just tell me? What can’t they tell me??
The suspense of this was nauseating.
As the day came we were sitting in the doctor’s office with Nick and the doctor said- “I’ll cut to the chase. Liisa- you have cancer.”
What all came after that is a bit blurry to me. I remember a discussion about potential phases, risks, steps… I just didn’t want to believe it was me who was hearing all of that. That stuff happens somewhere else…. with someone else…. Not here.. not with me!
We left the appointment and I was just furiously crying. I was confused, shocked, scared..
I had a coaching call scheduled for an hour later and still in sort of an ignorance phase I wiped my tears and jumped on the call. At the end of it I remember doing a reality-check. Wait…was all that for real?
I recall Nick going to the store in the evening and bringing me cake and ice-cream to make my mood even a little bit better. I was constantly crying.
The hardest part for me was at that point not having answers. We didn’t know exactly how serious or how far it had all developed. Clearly- when the mind is given the chance to fill in the blanks itself, it does it with the worst possible scenario.
The period that followed was not a fun one. I was in my own, little, dark bubble. Looking back I identify this time as one of the reasons why now I am so open to sharing everything. Why? Because it was a freaking heavy thing to carry alone. I wasn’t ready to accept it myself, let alone bring others to the equation.
After a week or so of this black hole I told my best friend, mom and dad. They were all just amazing. What a blessing it is to have supportive, “we’ll go through this together, don’t worry”- type of people around us.
I was scheduled to have a surgery to remove the lump and some lymph nodes. The “black-hole” phase was starting to turn into “me vs. cancer” fighting phase. I had accepted the situation, but had still resentment and anger in me. I was constantly asking- “Why???” Still, I had got my mental strength together, realising that burying my head under the sand is not going to do any good.
I decided to share the current situation of my life on social media. I debated it for so long. I didn’t want other’s pity, but felt hypocritical just putting on a smily face and carrying on with life like nothing had happened, but then crumbling emotionally behind closed doors.
I posted it online and truthfully- that was probably the best thing that I could have done for myself. I really started getting into a good headspace, where the “fighting phase” was slowly turning into “forgiving phase.” I really started working on my thoughts and also training people around me. I just needed encouragement and positivity from them.
Had an army of supporters next to me who I am eternally thankful for
In addition to raving support and a huge peak in my own confidence, a lot of knowledge came through sharing this. People suggested me books, podcasts, alternative medicine options… things that I might have found myself, but in way longer time. In moments like these, though, time is especially valuable.
Another “connecting the dots looking backwards” moment for me is that if I hadn’t done the personal development work before all of this happened, I would have never been able to start programming my mind and thus my actions the way I did. That is also another reason why I am so pro-developing and learning, growing and discovering, because you never quite know when that work that you put in might be life-changing. If we start it when things get really tough, it might be late already.
I also wrote out “My Story”- the most positive outcome of all of it I could imagine and repeated it over and over. I added some affirmations to keep my mind engaged with the right thoughts.
“My affirmations” written before the surgery
I started giving a kiss to my pony-tail every day and expressing gratitude, telling myself it’ll always be with me. It might sound silly, but I’ll take silliness every day over negativity.
I was also sent to a fertility doctor to explain all the possible options for future if the cancer is invasive and further steps need to be taken. I was told about freezing the eggs and different ways to cope with the hormonal therapy if necessary. Having a baby was something we had talked about with Nick and I called him after the meeting, balling my eyes out about the possibility that having one might be out of the questions for years and years. Although sad, I still believed the worst case scenarios are not going to be a part of my story.
Going to the hospital on the surgery day, I was somehow calm. I knew there were only a few things fully under my control, the main one being my attitude, and that’s where I put my focus.
I had a book, I had a crystal, that one of my best friends had given me and I had hope. That’s sometimes more than enough.
It was so soon after our wedding, that my last name as you can see, was not even changed yet
When I woke up from the surgery I felt so light. It was probably because of all the medication, but I felt so much at peace waking up. Nick was there with flowers and everything seemed bright and airy.
I had one of the nurses later tell me when I left the hospital- “You were so different than most of the patients here. You smiled way too much.” Hey…. a smile can go a long way!
I started my recovery and continued with my self-development journey in this new category life had thrown me into. I started going through a cancer coaching- program where I learnt about nutrition, environment, habits. Eating healthy had never been too much of a focus for me nor had I ever loved or known how to cook pretty much anything. Now I just felt I needed something I could control myself and take responsibility for throughout the process.
My girlfriends surprised me with a board of encouragement and positivity
Sometimes I think…- ” What if this didn’t happen, would I still be buying ready made food from the grocery store and eating a pack of candies every day? Would I still be taking my health for granted and just putting my body through whatever my mind felt it wanted at the moment?”
Got an idea from the cancer coaching program to start juicing and started putting it into practice right away
My life might be very different right now if I hadn’t been in that situation and chosen to make some changes. When pain is not big enough, people often don’t change. For me the risk and pain of not changing far outweighed the pain of making changes, so there was no hesitation.
Wherever you are in your life, think through if there is something you have known you needed to change, but haven’t yet? If nothing changes and things keep on going like that, what might be the outcome? Does it scare you? Would it be actually easier to take a step for a change?
I am not saying that cancer developed in my body because of food and that was the only cure. It might have, but it might have not. The thing with cancer and many other diseases is that you might never be able to pinpoint what the exact cause was.
I also thought that maybe this was exactly why we didn’t get my green card process done before and had to change the course of our plans with being taken away the chance to live in the US at the time. If we’d gone back, things again might be differently right now. You can only connect the dots looking backwards.
Long story short- the lump and 5 lymph nodes were removed. Because we took action so early the cancer was only in the milk ducts and hadn’t invaded the lymphatic system or close-by cells. The genetic test came back negative and chemo or radiation were not needed.
That is literally the best version of breast cancer one could have. That was exactly what I had written in “My Story” and what I was training my mind and others around me to believe. I could not have been more grateful.
I wrote out all the things that cancer came to teach me and fully believe that it went the way it did for me to make necessary changes in my life and inspire others to do so.
Although I serve a lot of the things throughout this process from a positive perspective now, being in it, it could not have been further from positive at some parts. I had breakdowns, worries, fears, every emotion was elevated. I lost a lot of weight, was weak and tired. My body didn’t feel like my own. Although I am clear now this period had a lot of other effects on my body and health that I am battling to this day.
I know that I focus in this post more on how I felt and what actually went through in my head, not necessarily every single step that took place. I just believe that half of the battles in our lives are whether lost or won in between our ears.
What I hope you take away from this are a couple of things:
- It’s okay to share things that are hard with people who are able to help you go through them. It’s definitely important to choose the right people, because with the wrong ones the opposite can happen. But hard times are not meant to be gone through alone.
- It is vital to work with the stuff that goes on in your mind. Your thoughts can be your biggest allies or your worst enemies. Choose and train them wisely!
- It’s crucial to be proactive with your health. It’s so sad to hear and have witnessed situations where people have known that they should do something, but they haven’t. They have just waited… and then it has got worse. It doesn’t always have to be a major issue, but if in your heart you know something’s off, then just take a step to have it checked.
- Above and beyond I strongly suggest women to just check their breast regularly by self-examining them. An ounce of prevention prevention is worth more than a pound of cure.