I was a healthy, active thirty-seven-year-old when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I was lucky that the doctors caught it early. They found the tumor shortly after I tested positive for the BRCA genetic mutation. I got tested after my sister was diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My sister’s cancer saved my life.
I immediately had a double mastectomy. The recovery was agonizing. I felt a huge sense of loss. I had to take two months off work. Initially, I couldn’t use my arms. I lost my hair. I had reconstructive surgery, but my new breasts don’t feel like part of my body. I had my ovaries removed as a preventative measure.
The recovery was agonizing. I felt a huge sense of loss
The chemotherapy was worst of all. Listing the symptoms doesn’t do it justice. Chemo wrecks your body. There were days when I was so sick that I had to be spoon-fed by my partner.
My relationships got me through the worst. My partner was there at every step. My friends and family brought me food, checked in on me, sent cards and gifts. It was an outpouring of love. That’s one positive thing that came out of my cancer: I learned how much people love me. And that motivated me to recover faster. It inspired me to get out of the house and go for walks. There were a million reasons to get off the couch. I wanted to get well and be my best self, for them and for me.
The other thing that got me through was sheer grit and determination. Being an athlete taught me to be tough. It showed me how to push through adversity. It taught me not to complain.
I had to learn how to let people help me
And I learned from my family. I come from a blue-collar family, and we’ve been through a lot. My father had breast cancer. My father and sister were my role models. They faced their own cancers with grace and resilience.
But I couldn’t do it on my own. I had to learn how to let people help me. I’m stubborn and don’t like to accept help. But for this battle, I really needed it. And I learned that allowing your friends and family to support you is helpful to them, too. It makes them feel less helpless, because they can do something to make a difference.
Nowadays I’m just happy to feel healthy. I’m grateful for my body’s capacity to heal from trauma. Three months after my treatments ended, I completed a triathlon. Then I ran a half marathon. Every single day, I am thankful for how well my body works and how good I feel. I value my life so much more since I came close to losing it.
Renee grew up in a blue-collar family just outside of Boston. She played collegiate basketball at Columbia University and earned a JD/MBA at the University of Connecticut. She is an in-house attorney and the head of HR for Zynga, a social gaming company. She lives in San Francisco with her partner, Jamie, and their dog.
Image Credit: Norman Jean Roy