Prior to meeting Sharon, I thought I knew what I would do if I was ever diagnosed with cancer. No, that’s a lie. I didn’t know what I would do because I never considered the possibility of such an occurrence, especially not at my age. But in January 2016, the same month Sharon and I began the wild adventure of transforming her chemo journal into a resource guide for women, I had my very first appointment to get a lump in my left breast checked by a doctor.
Scheduling that appointment was one of the hardest things I’ve had to do in my life. I actually found the lump the month before and waited to see if it would go away. As Sharon says, you cannot know the depth of fear until you are faced with even the possibility of hearing the words, “You have cancer,” and therefore cannot judge those who wait to seek medical advice. I understand that. For me, calling the doctor made the situation real–a situation that wasn’t supposed to be happening in the first place because there was no possible way I could have cancer. There was a history of breast cancer in my family, but that didn’t mean I could have it. As Vizzini from The Princess Bride would say, “INCONCEIVABLE!” But there I was, 23 and primarily healthy, sitting in my doctor’s office having a clinical exam, hoping she would tell me to go home and forget the entire thing. Spoiler alert: she didn’t say that.
Most of us think we know what we would do but until it is felt personally, no one can understand the fear caused by even the possibility of hearing, “You have cancer.” Until we are in a position of paralyzing fear, there is no way to predict how we will react. – Sharon Ratchford, It’s Definitely Breast Cancer
Instead she referred me to a local diagnostic center for a breast ultrasound that would surely show that whatever was inside of me was actually a figment of my imagination. My partnership with Sharon had just begun and I was reading all about an exceptionally aggressive form of breast cancer every day. It had to be all in my head–a hypochondriac moment. As I sat there in my medical gown waiting for the radiologist to tell me the results of the imaging, I had already formulated the situation in my head. He would tell me it was nothing, I wouldn’t need any more testing, and I was to skip out of the office never to look back. Instead the conversation went something like this: “We think it’s a simple fibroadenoma, but it has some irregularities. It’s most likely benign, but we think you need to have a biopsy to be sure.” My heart sank.
The short summary of the next eight to ten months is that I was referred to a surgical oncologist, who continued to follow up on my pesky “probably nothing” every few months. During this time I had two mammograms, so many ultrasounds, clinical exams, an almost biopsy, a second opinion from another radiologist, and the defining OK from all parties that I was not harboring a malignant tumor in my chest. Let me just interject my story with a bold PRAISE!
I tell this story because I could not have gone through my probably nothing journey without Sharon. Though my lump is benign, there was a period of time where doctors weren’t sure what it was or whether we would get a definitely answer through diagnostic tests. So I was forced to just wait and watch to see if the lump progressed. I struggled greatly with fear at the possibility of my probably nothing growing fangs and becoming something. Statistics say that the majority of breast lumps are benign (especially at my age), but statistics don’t give much comfort. Instead I found comfort in Sharon’s words of encouragement, either in person, through email, or in her journal entries that have now become It’s Definitely Breast Cancer.
Sharon’s book isn’t just an account of how she beat cancer, but a guide for how other women can persevere through all stages of the breast cancer journey. From diagnosis to post-treatment, Sharon gives insight into what she did and what medical professionals say works best. Her story of hope and the incorporation of her struggle (and growth!) with faith were huge encouragers for me, as I often asked God what the meaning behind my experiences were in relation to partnering with Sharon. As Sharon explains in her book, He has purpose in all things, including cancer, and those purposes are always good (though our human perspective doesn’t always see that right in the moment). I see my own experiences as a way to deeper relate to the work I had a small hand in bringing to publication. I praise God for the knowledge and empathy He gave me through this experience and that I can confidently tell others about how this book is relevant for all women struggling with the fear of a possible diagnosis, the hardships of treatment, or even the questions of post-treatment life.
Though my lump turned out to be nothing, I can personally attest to the fear of possibly hearing the words, “You have cancer.” I’ve seen the shadows of an ultrasound shift and the darker spot reveal itself. I’ve sat in waiting rooms and waited for phone calls. I continue to do this, as I still go to follow up appointments to make sure whatever is camping out in there stays chill. I say this not as a cheesy promotional plug but as hardcore fact–I refer to Sharon’s manuscript before my appointments. I read that and scripture before my appointments because they remind me that God is the ultimate Healer and His plans are perfect, even if the outcome ever does turn out differently. I read Sharon’s passages about leaning on Christ for healing and I am reminded of how God is writing an even better story for our lives than we could ourselves, even through hardships and fearful doctor appointments.
This is why I am so proud to be part of the publication of Sharon’s debut book, It’s Definitely Breast Cancer: First-hand experience of what actually works and the journey getting there, not only because of the labor of love that it is, but because it personally helped me during my own experiences in the breast cancer field. Sharon’s genuine heart to help women is evident on every page of her book, and I hope you find just as much inspiration in it as I did.
Blessed be the God and Father of our Lord Jesus Christ, the Father of mercies and God of all comfort, who comforts us in all our affliction, so that we may be able to comfort those who are in any affliction, with the comfort with which we ourselves are comforted by God. –2 Corinthians 1:3-4
[Gianetta also blogs. Follow her posts at Mapping the Up&UP]