Thriving, Part 1. From Surviving to Thriving With Breast Cancer in 2016

Cynthia Bailey, MD|September 27, 2016

Have you or someone you love been hit with the diagnosis of breast cancer?  Odds are you have. This year, 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime.  This means that you already know, will know – or will be – a woman with breast cancer....like me.

This is Hereditary Breast and Ovarian Cancer awareness week, or HBOC week as we call it.  This week celebrates and honors those who have been affected by the BRCA cancer gene mutation...like me. In honor of this important week we are kicking off a 5 part series: The Thriving Series. This is Part 1. Over the next 5 weeks we will share 5 articles describing my experience becoming a cancer survivor to a cancer THRIVOR. Welcome and enjoy.

When breast cancer strikes, I can tell you that the first instinct is to hope you survive it.  But...

Is it possible to do more than survive the diagnosis and treatment?

Can we ask for and experience the ability to thrive in the midst of the trauma?

Can we come out of it better than we went in? 

Can we thrive and hold on to that as we enter our post-cancer life? 

Or is all of this simply too much to ask?

My breast cancer diagnosis came in August 2013, a month before my 55th birthday. It was the biggest shock to ever hit my life. I know the same is true for many women diagnosed with breast cancer. Hoping to dodge breast cancer feels like playing Russian Roulette - when the diagnosis comes it’s like getting hit with the bullet you've been praying to miss.

After the initial shock, I had to ask myself a central question. Do I think that I got hit with this because of random bad luck; was I that one in the eight women to pull the short straw and “win” this booby prize (no pun intended, well, maybe) just because of misfortune... Or, did this happen in my life for a reason? Is there something I’m supposed to do, or learn, or change?  IS THERE A MESSAGE IN THIS FOR ME THAT I SHOULD TRY TO HEAR?

I decided to try to listen for the message. I’m sort of “hard wired” that way - to look for the silver lining in tough times. I’m also “hard wired” to think that things happen for a higher reason, one that my rational brain doesn't always understand.  Being hit by the 2x4 of breast cancer warranted my full attention. 

As I "listened," I gained insight.  As I gained insight, I made changes.  What happened, in retrospect, was that I went from being a woman who was an emotional train wreck, fragile, and fearful, to a woman who was actually thriving in spite of almost a half-year of chemotherapy followed by another half-year of horrible major surgeries. And, who continues to thrive.  

For my type of breast cancer the treatment goes on for at least a year. In that year I moved from barely surviving to fully thriving.  Given that I have always been terrified of breast cancer, this still amazes even me.

In this HBOC week, and October's Breast Cancer Awareness month (which is my third annual as a Breast Cancer Survivor), I want to help other women who are sharing this journey. I believe that we can go from Breast Cancer Survivors to Breast Cancer Thrivors!  I want to encourage us to look for what that means in our lives and then go for it.

To support this, help my team and I reach our $5k goal to raise funds to fight breast cancer! Join us and donate to the American Cancer Society. 

For me, the transformation first took a fundamental change in my perspective on the diagnosis. It took a lot of help from my friends, some very fortuitous community resources, and my openness to seek their help. It also took a scary leap of faith - decisions that have made my life better overall, but that I would not have made without the breast cancer bullet.

If you or someone you love has breast cancer, or has had the disease and is still reeling from the experience, I want to challenge you to seek out more than survival. Seek to thrive. How can your life get even better for you because of this diagnosis and all the trauma that ensues? Is it possible? Through the next 5 weeks and Breast Cancer Awareness month, I'll share how it was for me.

Photo of Dr. Cynthia Bailey practicing yoga during chemo (note her poodle napping in the background).

To see Dr. Bailey's full 5-Part Thriving With Breast Cancer Series - Beyond Surviving to Thriving:

  1. Thriving, Part 1. From Surviving to Thriving With Breast Cancer in 2016
  2. Thriving, Part 2. How I Went From Feeling Like a Victim of Breast Cancer to a Thrivor
  3. Thriving, Part 3. Breast Cancer Forced Me To Jump Into the Abyss
  4. Thriving, Part 4. Thriving with Cancer Means "Letting" People Help
  5. Thriving, Part 5. Become a Cancer Thrivor By Putting Your Health First

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