A cancer diagnosis changes everything. Cancer by itself is a scary word. Hearing you have cancer is an entirely different level of terror. In an instant, everything changes. In just a split second, there is a before cancer and an after cancer. You can recognize the line drawn in the sand. With good reason, everything is focused on your physical health. What can I do to get better? How do I beat this? But just as, and sometimes more important, is your entire well-being. Your mental, emotional, and physical self needs tender loving and care now more than ever.
In the new normal after diagnosis, the sudden onslaught of doctor’s visits can be anxiety-inducing. The genuine questions and phone calls from concerned family and friends can be overwhelming. The “what ifs” and treatment decisions can be paralyzing. The aftereffects of surgery and treatment make you feel like a different person. Being an advocate in the community is extremely fulfilling but can also be exhausting. Let’s not even get into survivor’s guilt.
While figuring out my next steps, I realized that self-care needed to be at the top of my list. I needed an arsenal of tools ready on the days that cancer knocked me down. I needed to know how to get my groove back after a difficult doctor’s appointment. I wanted to know how I could be gentle with myself while my world felt like it was closing in around me, and I craved ways to ground myself in the beauty that remained within me and my life.
A habit I picked up at the start of my diagnosis was journaling. I started it to document test results, questions I had for my care team, and things I wanted to remember, but it quickly became my outlet. I journaled about the things I was feeling. I poured out my hopes and my fears. It also helped me to examine why I was feeling certain things and what I could do about it. I could reflect on my thoughts, and I felt lighter when I left it all on the page. I could be brutally honest even when I thought I couldn’t be honest with those around me.
I never thought I could meditate. I still don’t. When my anxiety spiked, I learned that even if I couldn’t hold perfect attention, meditation helped quiet my racing thoughts. I turned to YouTube university and fell in love with guided meditation. It helped me follow a set path to meditation rather than trying to figure it out alone. I could choose the length and types of meditation I engaged in depending on my needs of the day. I also really enjoy sleep meditations. Sleep meditations allow me to sleep peacefully, knowing that my subconscious mind is thinking peaceful thoughts.
Baths have always been my comfort place. Whenever I need to think, I’m not feeling my best, or I want to get comfy and cozy, I love to soak in the tub. I don’t always add candles, bubbles, or fancy bath salts, but nothing feels as good as sinking into a steaming hot bath and letting my feelings go. As a natural girl, I don’t worry about getting my hair wet, so I am able to sink until just my eyes, nose, and mouth are peeking out. This is the time I chose to be alone with myself. This is my downtime when I have no other priorities. On the days I feel the yuckiest, I muster up the strength to get in the tub. In addition to freeing my mind and spirit, hot baths also loosen up stiff joints and tight muscles. During cancer treatments, it’s important that you find the energy to do the things that make you feel good.
Another new habit I picked up during treatments was affirmations. Words mean things. Words heal, and words hurt. I had to be more conscious of my self-talk during treatment. It was easy to say my body was failing me, or I felt like shit. While, in some instances, those things might be true, there is a better, more affirmative way to speak to and about myself. While saying affirmations out loud is still uncomfortable to me, I do draft my own. I don’t necessarily say them, but I write them and read them.
Thanks to a person near and dear to my heart, I try to speak life and gratitude over myself. I reframe my words to be more positive. I am first honest about my thoughts, but then I consciously reframe my words. I might feel like crap today, but I am also grateful that the medicines are working to kill the cancer cells in my body.
I’m a total tech geek. I love the newest gadget, and if there is an app for it, I have it. To help me keep a good balance and to stay on track with my self-care, I found apps to support my journey. I have affirmation apps that keep affirmations rotating on a widget on my phone screen, and I am reminded and given the space to write my affirmation once a day. I have a guided journal that provides different prompts to ensure that I am putting my feelings in a journal regularly. I have mood and symptom trackers. I have meditation playlists that I can queue up at any moment. These apps help me feel like I have a little more control over all the things that are happening to me.
Whatever speaks to your heart, do that. Your self-care doesn’t have to look like mine, but please find at least a few things that can help soothe your soul, pick you up when you’re feeling down and take you away when the reality is all too real.
For the Breast of Us(FTBOU) is an organization born three years ago with a single mission: Create a safe space for women of color diagnosed with breast cancer and reinforce that they are not alone. Understanding the importance of representation, FTBOU has successfully expanded its diverse ambassadors from the two founders to thirty Baddie Ambassadors over the last two years. Tapping into a variety of women from all walks of life, with different diagnosis and treatment routes, allows the organization to expand its voice and the women who can benefit from it.
Additionally, all ambassadors have a personal commitment and bias for action regarding advocacy and staying up to date with the latest cancer treatment developments—all to give it back when helping new breast cancer patients. In the last two years, FTBOU has also accomplished two successful retreats that have brought survivors from all over the nation together to inspire and educate them as they craft their own personal journeys.
FTBOU is the first organization to lead with an inclusive spirit for all women of color, all ages, ethnicities, and sizes. They are proud to have African American, Hispanic, Asian, and Indian women a part of their organization. They hope the list continues to expand as they carry on their mission to have our current and future cancer warriors see a familiar face in the souls that make FTBOU.
For the Breast of Us Houston-based Bajan Baddie Ambassador-Cynthia Johnson
Cynthia is the CEO & Creative Director of Our Like Vibes. Cynthia crafted the design aesthetic for Our Like Vibes and other brands like Bajans & Friends for Health & Education and Caribbean Heritage Magazine. Cynthia was diagnosed with Stage II Invasive Ductal Carcinoma in 2018, one year before she was old enough to begin regular mammograms. After a lumpectomy, chemo, and radiation, Cynthia is currently undergoing hormone therapy. To cope, Cynthia shared her journey candidly on social media. This led her to educate and advocate for breast cancer and health disparities.
Cynthia lives by the mantra, “If you’ve got to go through it, GLOW through it.” An educator by day, at night, Cynthia glows by volunteering her time as a Baddie Ambassador with For The Breast of Us, an Advocacy Ambassador for the Susan G. Komen Center for Public Policy, a certified global educator with the Know Your Lemons Foundation, a member of Alpha Kappa Sorority, Inc. and a proud Bajan Baddie!
She believes one of the major issues is women of color being misdiagnosed or their diagnoses being delayed. This can be due to ignorance or unfamiliarity with the culture the patient represents.
Johnson states, “We have to teach doctors to look past the fact that a woman speaks differently or that as black women we’re bigger women most times or that we’re overweight, and see what our concerns are, because they may not even understand that reality. You’re not going to tell Caribbean women to stop eating carbs – that’s just not real!”
Johnson makes it clear that understanding the cultural nuances is integral in making the best choices for those impacted by breast cancer. FTBOU helps those in the medical industry in this fashion and advocates for the right persons to be in the room when important decisions are made.
Special note: For the Breast of Us will host their inaugural sneaker ball, “We Run This Gala,” during Breast Cancer Awareness month on October 15, 2022, in Houston, Texas. The Gala provides a platform where breast cancer survivors and thrivers are celebrated nationwide, along with those advocating and educating our community and those no longer with us. This Gala is another creative idea from the organization aiming to mobilize support in the fight against breast cancer, connecting their favorite wear – sneakers – with their favorite elegance.