The following was written by Rebecca Weintraub, Ph.D, a 10-year breast cancer survivor, former group participant and current board member at Cancer Support Community-Redondo Beach (CSC-RB). CSC-RB is a nonprofit organization that offers over 150 FREE monthly programs of Emotional Support, Education and Hope to cancer patients and their loved ones. Below she shares her feelings at initial diagnosis.
On Jan. 16, 2003 I went to my surgeon to get the results of my biopsy. He sat down and said simply and directly, “You have breast cancer.”
Words can’t capture the daze I was in. I wasn’t exactly in denial—there were the words right there on a pathology report with my name and my medical record number– but it seemed I was in the midst of an out of body experience. Even as we talked about my options, possible surgical dates, consultations with other specialists, a piece of me was hovering, watching—not experiencing.
This must be a common reaction, because waiting outside the exam room door was a licensed clinical social worker—a therapist—who was also a survivor. Dr. Bradford had arranged for her to be there and brought her in to talk to me while he went to research menopause symptom drugs with his colleagues who solved problems with drugs (he had told me that as a surgeon, he solved problems with a scalpel). Ms. Stroll understood how I was feeling—better than I did. We talked a bit about my feelings and my fears—which still centered on my breast. She suggested we adjourn to her office for a full appointment, but I told her I had an urgent desire to go home and talk to my husband. That was the one compelling feeling I remember—I had to talk to Rich. Soon. Now. Urgently.
My memories of the 30 minutes I spent with Ms. Stroll are as murky as my memories of my time with Bradford are clear. I remember her telling me that when she was diagnosed she had an urgent need to go sit on the beach and watch the waves as a way of processing her news. But beyond that, what I remember was her grace, her compassion, her empathy—her knowing what I was feeling even when I could not express it because she had been at that end of the conversation herself. This was a new learning that would be reinforced over time—the women who have been there understand and know as someone who hasn’t been ever can. It’s not a sisterhood one looks to join, but it’s one of the most powerful, strengthening bonds I’ve ever experienced.
Later, I would experience the same sisterhood, only this time on steroids, when I walked into the Tuesday Night Early Diagnosis Breast Cancer Support group at the Cancer Support Community – Redondo Beach. But it would take me a ridiculously long time to realize how much I needed what they had to give me. And what a difference that gift would make in my life because of the difference it would make in my ability to fight my newly diagnosed enemy.
But I didn’t know that yet. I took the prescription from the doctor and left. I walked to my car, got in and closed the door. I picked up the phone and called home. Rich answered the phone. I said, “The news isn’t good. I’m on my way home.”
He said, “Drive carefully.”
I started the car and began a journey I never thought I would have to take.