Kaycee is a “fifty-something” African American woman who was diagnosed with breast cancer in February of 2002. She underwent 12 months of breast cancer chemo.
At that time, she had been a lifelong self-described “workaholic” with a friendship network that extends literally around the world. More than two years out from her diagnosis, she describes herself as basically healthy – in fact, she states that she is physically and psychologically healthier than she was “pre-BC”.
Yes, she has fatigue, insomnia and some joint pain, but she also has improved her diet and nutrition, implemented a physical activity routine, developed a more focused spirituality, and learned to incorporate relaxation in her life.
Breast cancer challenged many of Kaycee’s relationships. Friends whom she considered pillars in her support network disappointed her – leaving a profound void. But, as Kaycee puts it,
“Mother nature abhors a void and the losses of those relationships were instantly replaced with Survivor Sisters.”
Kaycee is exuberant about these new relationships, which have redefined for her the true meaning of friendship. Kaycee was inspired on her journey with breast cancer by two dear friends who died from breast cancer while she was engaged in her fight. Their spirits continue to boost Kaycee’s recovery through their unconditional love of life and the inspiration of their strength.
New “Survivor Sisters” have created a positive extended network for Kaycee of sisters, mothers and friends, completely unknown to Kaycee, who sent cards, letters, called, emailed and prayed their support to Kaycee. Women Kaycee had never met put their lives on hold to travel across state lines to be with her.
They walked in marathons, purchased ribbons, teddy bears and candles in Kaycee’s name and out of respect for her fight. They established prayer circles that literally spanned the globe – in churches, temples, synagogues and yoga classes to lift up her body, mind and spirit. One breast cancer survivor, Cathy M., fasted every week on the day of Kaycee’s chemotherapy treatment and on every Thursday of her eight weeks of radiation therapy.
She met fellow travelers on the journey, three very special women who went through treatment at the same time as Kaycee. The self-proclaimed “chemo chicks” continue to meet every three to four months and to be a support to each other in the life beyond treatment.
Kaycee feels that she has gained more than she could ever have imagined in these newfound friendships. Without doing a thing to earn their care and concern, Kaycee found that strangers became friends with whom she has shared her most intimate fears, tears, trials and heartaches. She cried for a solid year.
Every day for 12 months of breast cancer chemo and treatment. Every heartache that she had ever suffered in life surfaced anew. She cried for what was happening to her and for how helpless she felt. She cried to grieve. She cried to release tension and cried for help. She never cried in anger. And her tears brought her peace.
In hindsight, she believes that there were tears of joy from just living through the experience mixed among the tears of struggle and sorrow.
Kaycee did not cry from concern about her breast cancer treatment. She is confident in the treatment that she received with Dr. John Link. He provided a breast cancer second opinion for Kaycee and, in the process, became her treating physician and, as she describes him, her HERO. The staff of Breastlink were:
“Overwhelmingly the most intimately caring, genuinely professional, medically competent, and supportive group of people one could imagine in the medical community. Each member of the Breastlink staff added quality support during my treatment.
That support began when I opened the door every Thursday morning at 9:15 am and the receptionist greeted me… by name. Concern and care for me were exhibited by each staff member. The extraordinary array of services went far beyond just merely providing my breast cancer chemo.
Most meaningful was that provided by Lisa D., a psychotherapist of the highest caliber, a consummate professional possessing inordinate expertise and intellect, and an optimist with praiseworthy personal values and professional skills. The Breastlink staff personifies that their work is more than just a job. They believe and hence exhibit that their work is truly a commitment to LIFE.”
Ultimately, Kaycee feels at peace with herself. Breast cancer is a path that no one chooses, but she would, without hesitation, go through it all again to gain the life that she has today. She feels her breast cancer experience has added value to her life, in terms of self-actualization, strength, courage, determination, and lifestyle changes. This disease gave her the opportunity to experience real support, real compassion and real love.
Of all that she learned in treatment, Kaycee has found these abiding truths:
- When faced with fears, tears, anxiety, depression, unadulterated illness, debilitating fatigue, separation anxiety from one’s former self, and a life threatening illness one has two choices – you can face it all head on or you can go into denial about the future or the lack thereof. You must not become a “patient” or a “victim”; you must choose to partner with your team of medical professionals.
- And you must make a conscious choice to be a spirited partner.
- A sense of humor is paramount.
- Getting in touch with spirituality is vital – whether it be formal religion, meditation or metaphysical beliefs – it is a comforting and soft place to fall and rest.
- Remember that you are more than your income or home or external signs of value. Making peace requires establishing a new emotional currency of self-valuing based upon health, physical, emotional, psychological, spiritual, core value practices and self-realization.
- A support network is critical, as is a willingness to implement holistic practices such as acupressure, massage, reiki, yoga, aromatherapy and self-hypnosis.
- Positive thinking is indispensable. It is a fundamental principle in helping to rebuild one’s life.
- Create a healing, sensory soothing environment. Having a haven at home is essential – it is about having surroundings that heal, that appeal to every sense – visual, auditory, scent, tactile and taste. It’s about wellness.
- Learn to relax.
- Finally, make an unwavering commitment to your health. John Paul Sartre once said, “At the moment of commitment, the universe will conspire to assist you.” When a disease like breast cancer invades one’s life, a commitment to WELLNESS must be in the forefront of every thought, action and deed.
Additional comment: Breast cancer is the most common cancer among African-American women. Breast cancer death rates for African-American women are substantially higher compared to white women.
Additionally, the African-American woman’s 5-year survival rate is 71 percent compared to 86 percent for white women. Hence, it is incumbent upon me and every other African-American Survivor to be as active as possible in the “Stop the Silence” program provided by the Sisters Network.
Posted: June 2004