Cancer Warrior Sara Olsher
It's been one year and one month since I was diagnosed with breast cancer, and I still don’t understand how it’s possible that I’ve had cancer.
Sometimes I look in the mirror at my misshapen, nipple-less chest and don't feel like I'm really absorbing what has happened to me.
I was 34 when all of my Big Plans came to a screeching halt. I thought I had been through hell already, after surviving a traumatic divorce. I’d been a single parent for six years, and I’d finally found love nine months earlier. After waiting ages to introduce our kids, we were finally planning to blend our families together. And then, at 4 p.m. on a Friday, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I'd been feeling a strange sensation in my left breast that I likened to the feeling of breast milk being let down. Despite two different doctors not feeling any lumps, my family history led me to push for early screenings. It was my first breast MRI, meant to be a baseline for all future MRIs, that caught it.
I thought I had Stage 0 or Stage I. I had no lump; DCIS, they thought. But when I woke up from my double mastectomy, I learned it had spread to my lymph nodes. As soon as I was healed from my surgery, I began chemo, followed by radiation. I was stage 2a.
I’ve often heard that after active treatment ends, things can get hard emotionally. I will admit that I hoped (somewhat desperately) that I would bypass that part of the process.
But lately, I’ve been feeling like I’m floating out in No Man’s Land. Rather than feeling like cancer is ending, part of me feels like my story is just beginning. Where will I go from here? How has this changed me? What does it mean to go from cancer patient to cancer survivor?
The word “survivor” implies that the thing you survived is now over. That was hard, but I survived it. Like it’s a marathon or something.
But once you’ve had cancer, its impact never leaves - and there’s a real loss of control there. There is no going back to “normal.” Normal is gone now. Cancer changes who you are, physically and emotionally, forever. Something you did not choose changed you forever, and if you don’t like how it’s changed you (or you don’t quite know how it’s changed you), it can be a real struggle. You cannot ignore it, and you have to find a new identity. You can fight that, but it’s the truth. At some point, you have to make peace with cancer.
The one thing that anchors me through this - the part that brings me peace - is that I believe cancer showed me my path. I truly believe that my purpose in life is to conquer some really hard stuff, so that I can help other people do it, too. It's inspired me to take the business I've been running for years (helping families through divorce) and expand it to help families facing all kinds of hard things - including cancer. It has changed the way that I approach my life for the rest of my life, and I am so grateful for that. It has made me more comfortable in my skin, scars and all.
Some days I look in the mirror and I wonder, "one day, will I look at my chest and suddenly freak out?" Up until this point, I've simply accepted my losses as they've come, grieved them, and moved forward. So while I can't know the answer to that question for sure, I'm pretty confident that I'll continue to see my scars as a symbol of my own power, a reminder to listen to my intuition, and a source of strength that I can use to show other people that they can do hard things, too.