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A Breast Cancer Diagnosis Made Me Realize I Wasn't Really Living

October 30th, 2017 |
Recently Diagnosed

by Maya | Survivor: Breast Cancer    Connect

Before my cancer diagnosis, I lived the life of a normal thirty-something single European woman: I worked, studied and dated. When I felt that the time was right, I made the decision to move across the ocean to New York City. But before I could fulfill this dream, I was (unexpectedly) diagnosed with breast cancer. Now, my memories of cancer don't consist of unhappiness or fear. There was fear, of course, but mostly at the beginning. In the end, it turned out everything was a good life lesson – unfortunately, in such a cruel way.

On the day of the diagnosis, my doctors were not able to tell me what stage my cancer was, nor tell me my prognosis. I was told that it "looked very serious." I got scared, of course. That day at the doctor's office, everything stopped and disappeared. My past, my future... they didn't exist anymore. There was only the present. Here and now.

I had to wait for the results of my tests over a holiday weekend and it was the longest few days of my life. During those days, I questioned how I had lived my life and questions popped out: was I going to stay alive or simply – was this it? The end?

It made me really reflect on what my life had been so far. In my life B.C. ("Before Cancer"), I was a fighter, but I really lacked belief in myself and sometimes confidence, as well. I blamed myself for many things and was a perfectionist. Even though I was a bright person and all my life had been very physically active, I had been staring into the abyss of negative thoughts and depression. I had been anxious all my life. Now, I wish that I had addressed some of my biggest problems in life, just like during the time of my breast cancer diagnosis. All I had to do was to choose life and – most importantly -- believe in myself.

During those days before the final diagnosis, I read motivational books, spent my time with my family and friends and by myself in my thoughts. Just one day before the doctor's visit when the doctor would tell me my final diagnosis, without knowing why, I started to feel very calm. Suddenly, during those few days, I was my own best friend, stronger than ever, willing to fight for my life to the fullest, no matter what. It felt very natural to fight for my life.

The next day, the doctor explained to me that my diagnosis was stage three and it was metastatic cancer. We started the treatment immediately. I went through chemotherapy, partial mastectomy, lumpectomy and radiation, and after six months, I was cancer-free.

Experiencing the moment when I had no idea if I was going to live or die was the strongest experience I've ever had in my life. Some part of me is still in the grip of this moment, which made me realize how vulnerable we all are and how death is part of our lives. But the point of my story and my article is not to ponder about life and death. It was this realization of death, which was so close to me, which made me stronger than ever.

Even though now I have learned to believe in myself and started to realize much more what my good qualities are than anything else, I feel much better and suddenly depression and even anxiety have started to disappear. Even though they sometimes emerge, I know that I have the choice to choose between life and death. I can choose depression and darkness, or simply take everything from a different point of view and from the bright side.

To learn to do this is for some people a hard process. And I am learning constantly. It is not only because I chose life, but because I chose to love and believe in myself. If we believe in ourselves, then we can really do anything. For example, stare into the face of cancer without fear, knowing that we'll do everything it takes to kick its ass.

What did you choose to change about your life after your cancer diagnosis? Share your experience in the comments below!

Image courtesy of Sergiu Vălenaș.

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Maya's picture
I come from Slovakia and I am a breast cancer survivor. I was diagnosed and treated in Europe, and I have been living in New York since January 2016. I have Social Work degree from my country and enjoy volunteering and to work with people. I like to write and my first book called "Exit Havana" (under the pseudonym Maya Reyes) was published last year. The narrator of the story is a cancer patient and I used my own experience with cancer. I am also author of several articles in my country for cancer patients and cancer survivors. I was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was 36 years old, I went through chemotherapy, partial mastectomy, lumpectomy, radiation. I became cancer survivor in January, 2015.