The following is a personal story from Lu Ann, an ambassador of MyBCTeam, the social network for women facing breast cancer. Lu Ann recently celebrated being three years breast cancer free! Below she shares her thoughts on what it takes to move past previous expectations of oneself in order to create new ones. If you’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, go to http://www.MyBCTeam.com and connect with other women who ‘get it.’ Thousands of women from all over the country are here to share not only their stories, but their daily lives: the good days and bad days of living with breast cancer.
In a goal-oriented society, it is common for most women to define themselves by the things they do for others. I, for one, defined myself first and foremost, as a wife and mother caring for my family and home; spearheading school and social events; creating works of art; and being esteemed as a capable, dependable member of my community.
However, what we used to define ourselves by often goes out the window once we receive a medical diagnosis such as breast cancer. Our lives are suddenly, and forever, changed. We might have to take medical leave from our jobs, not knowing if we will be able to return to the same type of work we performed before our illness. Instead of chauffeuring others, we may have to ask another for transportation to medical treatment. We lack the energy to attend social events, much less prepare a meal, and we may physically, look and feel, like something the cat dragged in.
This is not how things were meant to be, we think. Our lives have taken a detour without our permission. By being forced to depend upon others, we may feel we have failed in our roles as wife, mother, sister, daughter, employee, or asset to the community. Our identity, so tightly bound up in doing things for others, is lost, and with it, our feelings of self-worth can plummet. Often, depression fills the void. Private suffering can ensue, until we confide our feelings in a trusted source.
However, we can’t let our perception of what we are “supposed to be” get caught up in the new reality of “what is.”
But how to do we redefine ourselves?
For myself, in order to move forward, I had to firmly grasp that my inherent value is not dependent upon the physical realm. Whereas my body is vulnerable to disease, my spirit is strong and enduring. I realized that we are spiritual beings, and our most important role is to love others unconditionally – something which cannot be done without first loving ourselves, exactly as we are.
I also found great support through private and group counseling, and benefitted from antidepressants and anti-anxiety medication prescribed by my doctor. I worked with my physical therapist, as well, to gradually learn, and accept, my limitations. Through the process, I discovered we can establish a new reality for ourselves, regardless of whether our physical appearance and abilities are completely restored.
Acceptance of the changes in my life allowed me the opportunity to adopt a new way of thinking; to explore my options and find new solutions for accomplishing tasks. Through granting others the opportunity of helping me in a time of need, I experienced a lesson in grace and humility.
By getting off the fast track, I am more available to my family and friends than ever before. I have time to listen, counsel, console, and create. My heart and mind take precedence over extraneous activities, and I have learned to appreciate the most important things in life – enabling me to share those priorities with others. New career opportunities have opened up, along with my new outlook on life.
Changes, which may be a result of cancer, are something for which we can, ultimately, become grateful for and learn from. I know that I have learned to never take anything for granted, to openly express my love, to be grateful for my daily blessings, and to let go of trying to control my future.
I look forward to this next chapter in my life!
Find support today and join more than 5,000 women facing breast cancer at MyBCTeam.com!