Emily Searle, 37
(Diagnosed at 36)
Left-sided, stage-3 (lymph nodes involved), invasive grade-3 (fast growing), hormone-positive, multi-focal breast cancer
That moment will never leave me. The moment that the lump I was expecting to be ‘nothing serious’ was confirmed to be a bunch of cells so powerful they could soon end my life. Cancer. The ‘it’ll never happen to me’ thing I realised was an entirely indiscriminate disease.
I cried, of course. For my children. For the babies that I would now never have chance to decide whether to conceive. I cried because of the pain I would cause my husband and family by sharing this news with them. I cried from a deep numb place somewhere in my chest. It felt squeezed, empty and far too heavy to carry around.
The following six months of chemo remain a blur to this day. I remember mostly making the slow, dazed journey from the sofa to the bed and back again. That was me. That was all I was capable of. I couldn’t take care of my children, I struggled to eat, to shower, to read and to think. I struggled to communicate what was happening in my head. Simply I made it through hour by hour, day after day. Some times were pretty dark and scary, lonely too. Despite everyone around helping my husband to take care of the children, the house, bringing meals and offering beautiful thoughts and cards and sending well wishes my way.
During those days, I drew strength from watching my children from my bed through the gap in the door as they played. They were three and five and taught me how to be more present with the day and the moment, and to accept and trust what is happening. I hoped every day I could demonstrate resilience, self-care and strength that they would carry forward with them into their adult lives whether I was still around or not.
The best advice I was given during this time was to explore journaling, and to write letters to myself. It was of incredible value; my letters got me through the hardest times. I carried this idea forward to when I was going for my surgery. I was having both breasts removed and reconstructed and, as the day came closer, I realised I was really struggling with losing what had been such a vital part of my life as a woman and a mother. So I wrote a letter. This time addressed to my boobs. Dear Boobs got me through the next hurdles of post-op infections and radiation treatment, and the day I completed 11 months of treatment, I launched a project to give back to the community.
The Dear Boobs Project is about publishing a book of Dear Boobs letters from women who have experienced breast cancer from all over New Zealand and the world (and is still asking for contributions); to give those who may heal a little from writing “Dear Boobs”, the opportunity to do so; and to give those not personally affected by breast cancer a unique insight into the real emotions, the hard decisions and the sometime long roads to a ‘new normal’.
This post was originally posted in our September/October issue of M2Woman. For more information on breast cancer awareness month check out the pink for a day website.