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For Everyone Touched By Cancer

Moving Beyond the Fear: Learning to be Part of the Cancer Community

Written by Katherine Knoploh on 
5th December, 2019
Updated: 7th March, 2023
Estimated Reading Time: 6 minutes

In February 2015 at an annual check up

My doctor found a lump in one of my breasts, and I was sent for diagnostic testing which included a mammogram and an ultrasound. A few days later, at the end of the tests the technologist would not say anything to me. She left and came back with a radiologist who had, “the look.” It was a look of knowing, but not wanting to say anything until tests confirm. I knew at that point that it was serious. He told me that not only was there a lump in my breast but also an area of concern in my lymph nodes. 

My next step was a biopsy.

This doctor was more forthcoming with me and at the end of it, she told me that the tissue did not look like normal breast tissue. She said it would take 1-3 days for the results, but the very next day I received a call from a nurse saying that I did in fact have cancer, both in my breast and my lymph nodes. It was March 5, 2015 when I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer at the age of 46, and my life was turned upside down. As I faced my mortality, I became grateful for my daily shower and its noise to cover my sobs as the water washed away my tears.

After meeting my oncologist and surgeon I underwent further testing to check for any other cancer in my body.

It was decided that I would undergo a double mastectomy, which was scheduled exactly three weeks after my diagnosis. The plan was to get the cancer out of my body as soon as possible. I set two goals for myself, to get healthy and keep things as normal as possible for my children in the process.

Although surgery removed my cancer, chemo and radiation were recommended to ensure there were no rogue cancer cells lurking. The fear of, “did the surgeon get it all?” and “Can I handle the treatments?” was big. Living WITHIN unknown is scary! All I could do is take it day by day, step by step, because courage doesn’t mean that you’re not afraid. It means that in spite of fear and hesitation, you take action. I began 5 months of chemo in late April, and after recovering from that, had six weeks of radiation. At that point, I wanted nothing to do with the cancer community. I wanted to move on, get stronger, and put myself physically back together.

Throughout the years of my reconstruction, even though I was taking steps to rebuild my body, I wasn’t moving forward emotionally.

I found for myself, and in talking with many cancer patients, the emotional impact of a diagnosis and treatment is usually just as hard, or harder, than the physical challenges. I was struggling with being stuck in that fear of recurrence. I occasionally participated in online community message boards, specifically for breast cancer patients, and one day another lady said something that nudged me in the direction of moving out of the fear. She said, “I don’t want to look back decades from now and realize I had lived that entire time in fear.” 

Helping the cancer community

It was the faceless ladies in the online community who really understood what I was going through and accelerated my emotional healing.

They helped me to learn that the fear may still be there, but I wasn’t going to allow myself to be limited by possibilities. 

About the same time I became friends with a woman named Rachel through the same online community. She was 33 and had stage 4 breast cancer when we met. I resisted the friendship at first because it was hard. It was hard to know what she was going through and know that if my cancer came back I could be facing the same challenges. At that point her cancer was in her bones and her brain. Although she was in another state, we quickly became close friends. We often laughed and cried in the same conversation as we talked about everyday things, like our children, and then talked about death and dying. Because of my own cancer, I was able to provide Rachel with tips for her nausea, or questions to ask her doctor. I was also that person who she could say anything to because I was familiar with the disease, but yet, outside of the family dynamics. It was hard sometimes, having a friendship with someone who you know is going to leave you. But it taught me that when you face your anxiety and go beyond the boundaries of limited perceptions of yourself, you experience things that will change you for the better. 

During this process of healing I began exploring ways to improve my overall health with both dietary and lifestyle changes by going back to school, and I eventually created my health coach business, Inspired Vitality.

While I respect and appreciate Western medicine, I also believe in incorporating complementary and alternative methods of healing. In the beginning, I did not want to immerse myself in the cancer community. I so appreciate those on the front lines, doing walks, raising money, etc., but I just didn’t want to be labeled as that women who had breast cancer. I have always believed that a diagnosis is something a person may have, and not who they are as a person. That’s what I felt for myself...I wanted to be someone who had cancer, and not someone defined by it. 

However, facing my fear of forming a bond with someone dying from the same type of cancer that had once been in me, allowed me to see that I had something to offer. It allowed me to see my purpose. That’s when I knew... I knew that I could be in the cancer community and make a difference in a more behind-the-scenes kind of way. I knew I had to go forward in helping those affected by cancer by being someone that people can come to for guidance, resources, inspiration and compassion. I knew I had to take a risk. I knew that cancer would not define me, but that I would allow it to shape me. 

Whether you are newly diagnosed, currently in treatment, post treatment, or caring for a loved one with cancer, fear of the future can be paralyzing.

It’s easy to become stuck in the, “What if’s.” It can stop you from; thinking clearly, doing necessary and enjoyable things, loving people and life fully, and taking action to create your best life. 

There’s a quote by Ray Charles that says, “Live each day like it’s your last...” I prefer to say,

“Live, each day.”

Experience the highs and lows. The love, and laughter, and mundane, as well as the challenges as they come. But, don’t become stuck in the fear of the unknown. When you do, you allow the fear to control you. Be present, and don’t skip over the now for the possibilities of what may or may not occur in the future. Live simply for the day that it is, so you can look back and know that you lived your life beyond the fear.

Further reading

This Is Me, I Will Not Hide: A Personal Account From A Cancer Survivor

Breast Cancer Gift Ideas

Practical suggestions for helping a friend with cancer

How To Support Someone Going Through Chemo: Easy and Not So Easy Tips

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