Not too long ago, I received a message from a stranger, a stranger that had more in common with me than I could have imagined.
Her name is Seema. And like me, she had breast cancer. Seema had discovered photos that I had posted of myself on a website for women who had chosen not to have reconstruction after mastectomy for breast cancer. I posted three photos of myself: post diagnosis, post mastectomy and then less than a year later. The message I wanted to send to the other women struggling with a breast cancer diagnosis was very simply one of hope.
With one brief message, Seema bridged the 2,428-mile space between us. Here’s what it said:
“I am 37 and was diagnosed with breast cancer…my double mastectomy was January 29. I want to thank you for sharing this picture. I showed my surgeon your picture. He looked at the picture the week before my surgery, and then asked to see it again an hour before surgery. After surgery I was so scared to look at my scars, but quickly saw after my husband removed the dressing that he had done exactly as I had asked. And now you and I have matching scars! Thank you.”
Life After “Meeting” Seema
Being diagnosed with a life-threatening disease is a bit like wading into a river; the water is dark and cold and you don’t know when the bottom will fall out from under your feet. Eventually, the bottom does fall away and a strong current sometimes pulls you under, or in some cases it carries you to someplace new.
My cancer diagnosis didn’t teach me “how to live” and it was never perceived as a “gift.” I waded into the river and my community was the current that I floated on, the current that held me up and allowed me to share my story with the women who were coming after me, other women like Seema.
Robin Charney is a breast cancer survivor and the outreach coordinator at ProMedica Cancer Institute.