A question for the Breast Cancer Community

Imagine if you could travel back in time and meet the person you were when you or your loved one were first diagnosed. What advice would you give them? How would you describe to that person how you feel now?

Answers from the Community

If I could travel back in time, I would tell myself, “You can do this. You’re strong.” And I still feel that way. I am strong.

I have thought about this quite a bit, mostly thinking if I would want to go back to being that person. But I think if I could talk to myself on the day of diagnosis, I think that I would try to focus on the fact that I’ll be okay. Like regardless of how hard certain things are going to be, I will have a lot of support and I will make it through and I don’t need to be afraid. But even if my future self tried to tell me that now, I think that fear is the thing that’s really hard to deal with. I would also tell myself to not have such high expectations for myself. Like as soon as I was finished with chemo, I wanted to be a hundred percent again. And I think I would tell myself it’s okay to get better progressively and to mend, and to realize that there are probably certain parts of my physical body that are never going to be the same ever again. I would also tell myself that it’s okay to ask people for specific things and specific help, especially friends. I think at my age, being 27 when I was diagnosed, I didn’t want to be a burden to any of my friends or family or any guy that I was talking to at the time. And I think now, I look to people in hard situations and I want to know how to help them. So I think I wish I would have asked more people for specific things in order to let them in and in order to let them help me. So I would go back and tell myself it’s okay to ask people for specific things because they want to help you.

I would give me advice of you are ready, well, you’re not ready. Be prepared for a onslaught of side effects. You are going to go through a lot of hell. You’re going to have surgeries, you’re going to have chemo, your hair’s going to fall out twice, and it’s not going to be fun. You’re going to look differently. Your teeth are going to be all pulled out because of osteonecrosis of the jaw. You’re going to have your femur have a rod inserted to it. You’re going to have cement injected into your back. You’re going to have ablations from the pain management doctor. You are going to be hospitalized several times. And yeah, be prepared. And how I feel now, I feel horrible, horrible all the time. I try to be happy, but it’s really hard. I do find joy in life in somethings, but if I looked at the overall picture, yeah, it’s pretty rough having cancer.

I’m not exactly know how to answer this question. It was only two years ago and kind of remember that person. I would say that I would not have made any changes. I will tell you this, that I had just moved to this particular address one year before I was diagnosed, and it did occur to me that maybe I should go back to a more familiar area, where I knew there was a cancer hospital dedicated to cancer, and a good one, and seek help there. And I struggled with that in the beginning, but actually I stayed in the new neighborhood and chose new doctors. And so, I have no advice for my old self to do anything different than what I did, except maybe stay calm, that I would get through it. Life goes on most of the time. And that’s it.

Well, getting diagnosed was very scary. My first chemo treatments were absolutely horrific, but they did get easier. Although I’m still very tired, I can’t do all that I want to do, it’s not as bad as the first month was. So I would just say hang in there, things will get better.

Thinking back, it was a little over two years ago, I guess I would tell myself then, that I didn’t believe this was real. I had no idea that something like this could happen to me and when it did happen and I was an automatic stage four, the treatment, the first couple of treatments that I was on, made me so fatigued and I was in so much pain. I basically sat in a chair and cried for about a year and thought I was going to die every day. It wasn’t until the second year that I found a treatment that didn’t cause me as many side effects and I was able to go out and get social again. That really helped, unfortunately, until COVID came around. Well, now I have to isolate again. I guess, I would just tell that person in the first year that I wasn’t going to die the next day. I just would’ve got out and done more things, tried to have found a better treatment. The first year I was with a different oncologist and she would just give me a treatment. I really had no say in it. I switched oncologists in the second year, and I just have such a better relationship with him. Well, how would you describe to that person, how you feel now? I would tell that person that in two years, believe it or not, I have a more positive attitude now than I did then and that things are bad, but they can get a lot worse, and I’ve been very lucky these past two years.

Well, it’s devastating when you’re first diagnosed. My advice would be not to read too much internet information because it makes it very, very scary. And now three years into the cancer, I feel relatively normal. I don’t think about it every day like I used to.

The advice that I would give them is to not worry or fear so much and to live each day intentionally. And to not focus on the disease itself, but to focus on life. And I guess I would tell them that it’s all okay, that it’s going to be okay. And that we could do this, and we’re strong and brave.

If I could travel back in time to when I was diagnosed with metastatic disease, I would tell that person to be prepared for a long road, because it’s never ending to have metastatic cancer. What I would give her is just patience and the ability to manage uncertainty because it’s very difficult to do. I would also describe to them that today I feel very optimistic, and hopeful, and happy in the midst of this diagnosis, but I would probably temper the immediate giddiness of how I had felt until this will all work out with a realistic knowledge that it’s a long, long, long road.

The advice that I would give myself back then would be to be more vocal about feelings. I tend to bottle them up and not express how I’m feeling, or I just try and do things myself instead of asking for help because I do not want to burden other people. And I do feel I’m a burden on my family and my friends. And I don’t want them to see me as weak. So I don’t enjoy being vocal. So that’s something I would definitely want to change. How would you describe, to that person, how you feel now? I would describe it as being content, I guess, in a sense. I’m okay with my diagnosis. I’m okay with knowing that I will not be cured unless they find a cure, in a sense. I know that probably doesn’t make much sense, but that’s pretty much how I feel. Back when I was first diagnosed, feelings were bouncing off the walls, not knowing what to feel or not wanting to acknowledge that I may not be here to see my children grow up. And I think that was something that was really hard. And now I would say it’s okay. My children are okay. My husband’s okay. They may not realize it. And I think they cling to the idea that they won’t have to worry about losing me, that everything’s working okay. So they’re content. They’re also just going with the flow.

Back when I was first diagnosed, I had had a mastectomy on one side, and they thought I had a good chance that they got all the cancer as the test showed nothing at the perimeter. I knew it was a chance that it would spread, that one of those little buggers would be beyond the cutting zone. The surgeon suggested I take a hormone pill, so I gave in and withstood it for one month, at which point the pain in my wrist joints was so bad I wasn’t going to be able to continue to do my woodworking, so I quit and I did nothing. If I could go back to that person I was, I’d say, “Go ahead and stand your ground against what the doctors say. You just trust in God, girl.” That’s what I’d say to the person I was. Wouldn’t change a thing.

Oh, my goodness if I could go back and see myself before breast cancer, I would tell myself, calm down, slow down, relax. It’s not that important, because I found that stress causes a lot of issues. My doctors and family, they are always encouraging me to keep it up and you look good. And, I mean, I have bad days, but I try not to show them, but a very good support system. So, if I could go back and then self, I would have said, “Get out now. He’s not worth it. Too much stress.”

This is probably the hardest question for me. If I could travel back in time and meet the person who I was when I first got diagnosed, I would tell her, make sure to get a psychiatrist as well as a therapist that you start seeing regularly because this road will be hard, but you can make it through. I would tell her, just because the plastic surgeon says it’s okay to resume normal activities, listen to your body and give yourself more time. Even if you think you don’t need it, take more time. Oh, I was going to say, surround yourself with friends and family. Take more advantage of people who are offering their help. Allow people to bring meetings to you in your home. Allow people to do things for you. It will help. Wear a mask when out in public. It tends to just keep people away, and you don’t want extra germs. I would describe to my former self how I feel now is that I feel, without wanting to ruin the “you can get through this,” I would say, I feel like I’ve been sucker-punched, and you will feel that way too. Some days will be really hard, and some days will be much easier. Then, I would reiterate how important it is to make sure you have a good psychiatrist, as well as therapist to talk through the things. What else would I tell myself when I was first diagnosed? Oh, get with a support group. Don’t wait. Do it in the beginning. Those are going to be your people. You don’t realize it now, but those are going to be the people that you connect with the most because they will understand. What else would I tell myself? I would tell myself, follow my instructions so you can have a better outcome. What else would I tell myself? That’s about all the advice that I would give. I’d want to say, just keep your head up. Keep going. Take more time off of work. Don’t make yourself crazy. This is cancer. It’s all fun and games until someone gets cancer, but it’s not fun and games anymore. It’s very serious. And I would also say, make sure to thank your parents and thank your partner. That’s all.

My advice would be to prepare for a very difficult journey, navigating constant cancer treatments, constant doctor visits, medical tests, and health insurance dealings. If I were to describe how I feel now that I have come to terms with how my life is now, compared to pre-cancer, to allow myself to rest and recuperate after treatments, and to gratefully accept help from others, and to always be appreciative of all the support and help I receive.

I would say what someone told me was listen to your doctor. They know what they’re doing and trust them. And I would say the same thing. It’s going to be okay. The medicine they have now is really advanced. You don’t feel a lot of side effects like nausea. And yes, you might lose your hair, but that’s okay. Who cares? Just, everything’s going to be okay.

If I could travel back in time and tell myself a piece of advice from now, I would basically say, “Really, really pay attention to how you feel during your treatments and not be afraid to let the doctors know. A lot of times what you’re feeling is not normal, or maybe not normal to that extreme.” I tolerated a lot of discomfort and feeling ill because I thought it was normal. And I accepted a lot of poor treatment on the side of the oncologist, being treated as a number and not as a patient with cancer. And I would describe that to me or that person how I feel now is, you probably will have some tough times even after treatment is completed. And just take it one day at a time, you’re going to have good days and bad days. Appreciate the good days and learn how to deal with the bad days.