When BHE (Best Husband Ever) and I first tried to start a family, it didn't take long before I was pregnant. We were surprised and thrilled and terrified all at the same time. I was sailing along in a doctoral program, BHE in medical school, and everything was right in our world. I miscarried a week after discovering the pregnancy. Six months later the same thing happened again. We were beyond devastated. After each miscarriage, we locked our doors, turned off our phones, and took time to deal. Our lives had stopped for a moment and we couldn't bear to see everyone else carrying on with theirs. That's the nature of difficult times. It goes like that for everyone -- the cruelty of knowing what it feels like to suffer loss. Although we were in our later twenties at the time, we were the first in our group of friends to know what a miscarriage felt like.
A few years later, as others began families, I remember a good friend taking me aside and apologizing for not understanding before what we went through. Unfortunately, she had recently been added to the group of "knowing." There's a strong familiarity among sufferers, and even stronger when your suffering is so similar. Something I've been thinking about since my breast cancer diagnosis last year is that this whole scene will eventually replay itself. Years from now a close friend will be diagnosed and will say those same words. She'll apologize for not understanding what I had gone through this past year. It will be a completely unnecessary apology, but it will still come. I hate that reality. It's the last thing I'd ever wish for someone. I don't want other women to understand what I've been through because it means that they are now walking that road. That's the difference between sympathy and empathy. Over the last year, I've been the recipient of both, and both have their merits, but when you're in the midst of suffering there's little more valuable than empathy from someone who's been there. My doctors have been fantastic but their comfort only goes so far. It's the women who bear the same scars as I do who gave the most comfort. Specifically, another mom in my son's class who had been through it all just a few years earlier, and my plastic surgeon's wife who was in the midst of treatment when I was diagnosed. These women answered personal, detailed questions, validated my raw emotions, and laughed with me at the absurdity of it all. Because of the empathy that they showed me, I can now show it to others. I never dreamed that this is the way that I would be able to serve people, but the service is a blessing. It's something good that comes out of something so very ugly and brutal. I'm not aching to be a major fundraiser, turn my closet pink, or pass out ribbons every chance I get. I'm just trying to help other women like me -- those who are shocked, terrified, and trying to navigate the tightrope that is breast cancer. I know that there will be plenty more women in years to come and I hate that fact.
A common question that people ask when they see good come from tragedy is whether the affected would change history if given the chance. My honest answer? Of course! If I could go back and somehow never get cancer I would in a heartbeat. I am so blessed by the friendships, insight, and perspective that I've gained through this but I'd just hope that those things would somehow evolve without this dreadful cancer stuff. So I'm telling you, it's okay to wish it never happened! No person has to be a hero, a martyr, or anything else in the face of hardships. You just have to live. Don't just exist through it -- live through it. Do the best with what you have at the time. For current cancer patients and survivors still coping, sometimes your best is staying in bed and crying. We all have those days and it's normal, expected, and perfectly fine. If you can't get past this point though, reach out! Contact me, a close friend, a stranger in a support group, someone. You are not in this alone! Millions of women are empathizing and millions more are sympathizing.