Last June I got an email from my friend Sam in Portland telling me that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer. I think it came as quite a shock to everyone. She hadn’t yet turned 30; I had seen her just a few weeks before when she came to Eugene to meet baby Paul and give him a quilt she’d made. She’d seemed vibrant, happy, and healthy when she visited. We’ve been staying in touch via email, and I asked her to share part of her story here:
My name is Samantha and I am a fiery, passionate young woman. I am also an elementary school teacher, quilter, printmaker, salsa dancer, and Ed.D (doctorate of education) candidate.
In mid-May 2015 I was reaching for soap in the shower when I hit my left breast, hitting something different, something hard. By May 27, 2015 I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I had a very common type of breast cancer known as IDC (Invasive Ductile Carcimona). I got placed in the Multi-Disciplinary Team for Breast Cancer with an appointment for June 2.
In a PET scan ordered before the appointment, my worst nightmares were revealed: I not only had advanced breast cancer, I had metastatic breast cancer meaning the cancer was Stage IV and had spread to my lung and thigh. I had 0% chance of survival and was told by my all the oncologists in the little exam room along with my parents that they could make me comfortable until the end, but they could not cure me. I was 29 years old.
I ended up being one of the lucky ones. With further examination, they discovered I did not have Stage IV cancer — the spots in my lung and thigh turned out to be non-cancerous. I think that the initial horror that my time left was to be limited and unpleasant led me to be grateful for all moments. I remember waking up from my bilateral (double) mastectomy now breastless, hairless and infertile (from chemotherapy) thinking that these were just battle scars to a better life.
Cancer helped me to clarify my perspectives. I had many friends before I got cancer. Many of them left and stayed away after I got cancer. The friends that have stayed I have learned are true friends, not just friends who are there when it is convenient for them. The deep love my parents have for me is unmatched. I realized that more framed degrees on my wall would not make me happier, but that I should focus on slowing down and enjoying life with the people I enjoy being around.
To help me cope, I go to cancer patient groups. I go to a group that meets weekly that is people mostly 30 or more years older than me and along with a cancer counselor we help each other problem-solve. It is a group made up of people with many different cancers. I also go to a 40-and-under (when diagnosed) group for breast cancer; that group meets once a month. I also walk as much as I can and spend time with the people I love.
If you are just being diagnosed with any kind of cancer, I say you should find a group that works for you. There are writing groups, groups that are just for men, women, and young survivors. Not every group just sits and talks, many groups go on all kinds of outings. For me the greatest help came from another young teacher diagnosed with breast cancer who came to my house when I couldn’t leave for comfort. I hope to do the same for someone else someday.
If you want to be a supportive friend, I suggest finding yourself a job that you can do. The hardest friends to me were the friends who would make plans; I would rearrange many medical appointments, and then they would cancel. I had a friend who loved to drive so she would take me for rides at a good time in my chemotherapy cycle. Other friends lived far away and would send me care packages.
Remember that the worst thing to say or do to someone who has cancer is nothing—it completely invalidates that they exist. Having cancer, I thrive on connection. A hug, a letter, a phone call, they mean the world.
Please join me in keeping Samantha in your thoughts and prayers as she continues to fight to regain her health.