1. Don’t wait to get it checked out. Either set your mind at ease or nip it in the bud as soon as you can. Truly things can only get worse the longer you wait.
2. A breast biopsy hurts, be prepared. Do it, but be prepared.
3. Insist that you don’t want to hear the results of your biopsy over the phone. I found out I had breast cancer on the phone, at work, 45 minutes from my family. That was awful.
4. Get your support system in place. For lots of people, asking for help is the hardest thing to do. If ever in your life your survival depended on others, now is it. When possible, be discerning about who makes up your support system. Some people are great for helping with chores around the house, while others you want with you at the doctor appointment. Sometimes you may need a positive upbeat figure that can distract you, and other times you may want a quiet, calm and steady person who won’t bombard you with questions. Figure out what you want and need and ask for it.
5. Don’t assume the lab is going to send your scans to the hospital or doctor like you ordered. Call and check and double check. Get the UPS or Fed-Ex routing number if you can.
6. Be SUPER organized. If you can’t do it, find someone who will. I really liked using the, “My Hope & Focus Cancer Organizer” by Puja Thompson. Keep all your contacts, pathology reports, bills and questions in one binder and bring that with you to your appointments. It makes a huge difference in helping you feel informed and empowered in a rocky sea of confusing terminology and decision making.
7. Don’t settle. If you don’t like the way a doctor or a medical practice makes you feel, or if you feel your concerns are not being addressed with enough clarity or compassion, if something gets your hackles up and you just don’t feel safe, move on. Get a second opinion. Assemble the health care team that you can rely on and feel good about. Just don’t take too long doing so.
8. Create time and space to heal in peace. You are going to feel like being a patient is a fuIl time job for a while. If you are undergoing surgery or chemotherapy, you are going to need time to recoup. This is a good time to call upon your inner circle of supportive friends and family, and be really clear about what you need and how they can help. Right before surgery, I asked my family and friends for space and told everyone that we (my husband and I) would reach out when we needed something. Having a point person organize the rest of the support group might be a good option. The gist is, you don’t want 10 people showing up with a pot of soup all on the same day.
9. If you are undergoing surgery, get the clearest post-op, discharge instructions you can prior to the date of the operation. I wish my surgeon or the nurses at the hospital had told me that I would have to stay on antibiotics for the entire time that I had drains. For some reason the pharmacist filled the script with refills but didn’t mention that fact and sent my husband home with a 6 day supply, I ended up with a fever, an infection in my right breast, and later needed to drain fluid from my swollen right side.
10. Be a good patient and really adhere to your discharge instructions. Don’t miss taking an antibiotic. Don’t lift or use a limb if you have been ordered not to. As difficult as this time may seem, it will soon quickly pass, but right now you need to follow doctor’s orders and just heal.
close up of “Inheritance” by Melissa Eppard