What breast cancer can’t take away from me

Olivia Silver is a writer and a PR professional. She also has breast cancer. Last May, she was diagnosed with the disease, and soon after, she started writing about it. In this column, Olivia examines the everyday aspects of life while being treated for breast cancer as a 30-something. 

Eight is the magic number for me.

This week will be my eighth and last round of chemotherapy  — hopefully forever. It’s strange because I want to celebrate, but I now enter into the next unknown  — surgery. In about a month I will have a mastectomy. And then it’s on to radiation. There’s always another step.

This week I visited with the doctor and her staff who will be operating on my breast. It’s a great staff and one that really breaks down what is in store for me. But with each additional page of information about draining fluid, recuperation time and what I can and cannot do for two weeks, I became more overwhelmed. Lately I think a lot about how I got here. I don’t understand why this is happening to me. I’m sure so many people ask themselves that question when faced with something difficult like breast cancer.

I have also been thinking a lot lately about what it means to be a woman and the strength that women possess to get through experiences like this.

For me, with each round of chemo something you usually associate with being a woman has been taken away from me. First, my period was temporarily stopped. Then I lost my hair and needed to don a wig. I then lost most of my eyelashes and my eyebrows. (My morning ritual now includes penciling and coloring in my brows.) The chemo tires me out so exercise became tougher and I have started to gain weight and look less like myself. And now I will lose my breast to this disease.

Stripped away of all the physical characteristics of the woman I used to be, I start to wonder, what’s left?

My hope is that cancer can’t take away my inner-strength. It’s the only thing I can count on right now within myself because there are so many unknowns. I didn’t realize how much strength I had until I started going through this disease. I have to rely on this strength to keep pushing forward despite not feeling like myself. It gets me up in the morning when I don’t feel like moving. And it forces me to not be ashamed when people see my bald-head tucked under a bandana or scarf.

Life continues moving on and I have bad days at work or get frustrated when something doesn’t go my way at home or at the organization where I volunteer. I irrationally wish that everything else in my life would be rainbows and kittens while I go through breast cancer. But that is unfortunately not how it works.

I hope that women who read this understand that this same inner-strength I have found within me is also inside them. Women see it when they go through child- birth, face discrimination or deal with a relationship ending. There are a million ways women exhibit this inner-strength everyday. It doesn’t have to be something life-changing for that inner-strength to materialize.

This month is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It’s a perfect month for women to champion each other and bring awareness to a disease that impacts women more than men. I personally have seen so many women reach out to support me, whether they’re showing me how to pencil in my eyebrows so they look natural or organizing a monthly calendar for people to bring me food. Many women in my life have had my back throughout this experience. Their help has made this thing I call my “inner-strength” that much stronger.

As I venture into the next stage of breast cancer, I wonder how it will impact me physically and whether my inner-strength will remain with me during this next step in the journey. My hope is that it will carry me through so that breast cancer will eventually be a distant memory in my life — one chapter of many more to come.

Read more about Olivia’s journey here.

(Image via iStock)