YSE Women

From the Vantage Point of a Breast Cancer Survivor

Written by Jordan Johnson

Bearing the weight of everything that comes with breast cancer – physically, mentally and emotionally – is something only those who have undergone it can understand.   It’s something I know, as I write this, is an experience I can’t relate to or even try to comprehend, but one that I was recently able to get a glimpse of.

From an outside perspective, it’s often hard to imagine anyone that looks healthy, seems healthy or feels healthy, could also be dealing with cancer.  But unfortunately, it’s something that’s becoming all too common, especially amongst young women.

For Dulci Edge, that was her exact story.   While feeling perfectly healthy, she felt an odd lump in her breast one day.  As what she thought was only a precautionary measure, especially given her age and how she felt, Dulci went in for a doctor’s appointment that ultimately would turn her life upside down.  Because then, at the young age of 33 and with no history of breast cancer in her family, Dulci was diagnosed with Stage 2A, Grade 3, Triple Negative, Infiltrating Ductal Carcinoma Breast Cancer.   

“I wasn’t doing regular self-checks.  I wasn’t even looking for it, but I noticed something felt different one day,” Dulci said.  “As women, we’re all so busy taking care of other people that we often forget to think about ourselves.  It’s so easy to notice something like that and think oh, I’ll just get it checked later.  But luckily, I did get this one looked at, because it ended up being pretty aggressive and requiring immediate attention.”

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She described the incredulous, life-altering moment when you’re told the news as going “numb.”   You’re sitting in the doctor's office and given a diagnosis…you hear the word “cancer” and everything  tunes out.  An overload of information immediately starts being rambled off to you, none of which you’re able to digest – because in that moment, as she explained, it’s impossible to grapple with the fact you have cancer, while also absorbing any of what’s being told to you.

Dulci then described the slew of doctor appointments, mixed emotions and attempts to find any calming answers in the days that followed.  After first hearing her diagnosis, only four years ago, she went online to search for any advice or guidance that could ease her concerns.  Unfortunately, she only found resources geared specifically towards older women, or a multitude of dismal answers that left her feeling even worse.

“You want to find something, or someone, that makes you feel not alone.  The internet can be such a dark place, and although I now advise other women going through this to stay offline as much as possible, I was certainly guilty of going online sometimes – and honestly, it was in hopes of finding any answers,”  Dulci said. 

“I so badly wanted someone to talk to that had gone through this before.”

In realizing this type of personal connection or helpful information (outside of doctor’s offices) didn’t really exist, Dulci decided to be open about her experience, in hopes of maybe helping other women who also had breast cancer.

“When you’re going through this, you’re battling with both the loss of self control and the loss of your sense of  femininity,”  Dulci explained.  “You often think, ‘why did this happen to me’ and those waves of negative emotions can really overcome you.  So, in sharing my journey with others, it not only helped me heal mentally, but it also gave me a sense of purpose.  I began to think that maybe this wasn’t all for nothing.”

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As we continued talking about Dulci’s journey, she went on to explain the difficult emotions that accompany it, and the constant balance of trying to remain positive about your own recovery, while also not succumbing to toxic positivity.  

“Mind over matter is very important, but it’s not the only way to beat cancer.  You have to accept that some days aren’t going to be easy,”  Dulci said.   “You’re going to have some awful moments where your mind goes to that dark place, but it’s important to just sit with those emotions and let them pass.”

And although as loved ones, we tend to say things like “everything will be okay!” or “you’ll be totally fine” as either coping mechanisms for ourselves, or attempts to be helpful, Dulci suggests that we, instead, let the affected person process the wave of those dark feelings, rather than forcing them to feel positive.  She explained that it would actually be more meaningful to just sit with them during those times, instead of trying to change their outlook.

“The need to be positive at all times can, in turn, make the person with cancer feel like they’re not living up to the expectations of being positive and hopeful for themselves,”  Dulci said.  “And while going through this, you shouldn’t feel like you have to do anything, or be anything.  And most importantly, you shouldn’t suddenly feel like you have to be a symbol for what breast cancer is ‘supposed’ to look like.” 

In closing out this hour-long conversation that frankly, I could have let go on for even longer but didn’t want to take more of Dulci’s time, I walked away in sheer awe of this woman's strength, power and courage. 

I felt sorrow for the pain she and so many other women have suffered. I felt baffled by what I thought I knew about the disease and really didn’t know at all.   I felt an increase of knowledge around the topic, because of her, although I know there is still so much to learn.  I felt gratitude for my own current health, knowing now it's something that can change in a second.  But most of all, I felt the utmost respect and appreciation that Dulci, a truly resilient breast cancer survivor, had taken the time to share her experience with me, in the hopes of helping anyone with breast cancer not feel alone, as she once did.