Breast cancer is challenging enough, there’s no need to do it alone. No one needs to be that strong.
Have you got a tribe? A girl posse if you will? I do and I’m the luckiest girl in the world with the love they have gifted me during my breast cancer chapter. Without them, I know I would not have made it. It’s a strong statement, but that’s my raw truth.
I know I needed them when I was initially diagnosed. I needed them when I had multiple surgeries. I reached out in tears when I received my pathology news. My tribe caught me before I hit the floor and held me until I could stand on my own again.
My tribe triple dog dared me to dress up and make chemotherapy my bitch (which I totally did!). And together we have a big enough collection of titty jokes for me to do stand up comedy.
MY tribe was and continues to be, a sacred circle of trust, love and laughter, and unconditional love. It’s a space that awakened my true warrior spirit. Women are incredibly powerful in their own power, but when they gather, something magical happens when they combine their energies
Reaching out for comfort and support is vital when you’re feeling too many feels during a personal crisis such as breast cancer. This is a time when overwhelm can set in, and that bullshit gets in the way of connecting to your intuition. Knowing what you innately need (in terms of deciding your treatment), when you need it, and choosing who will provide that all require you to have your wits intact, not shattered in pieces on the floor.
Without a connection to your gut instinct, you may struggle to make sense of the diagnosis, or clearly decide with your full heart knowing of your treatment. Furthermore, your recuperation to treatment may be hindered as you hang onto to unwanted or unresolved emotional stress.
Never risk blindly stepping along a pathway navigating a crisis, and be solely rely on the advice by an external party. By all means, gather your medical teams (and there will be multiple parties), and listen to their recommended actions and reasons behind that. But make your decisions always being true to your gut instinct.
I’ll happily talk to anyone who wants to about my breast cancer experience. I strongly feel that open dialogue is critical to demystify the array of fears associated with the disease and it’s treatment. I know the conversations I had with my posse were emotionally charged, as we dissected scientific-based facts and how that related to my cancer now and my long term prognosis with or without treatment. Some of these conversations even prompted some of my friends to finally go and have their initial screening mammograms.
I recently watched a webcast presentation by Breast Cancer Network Australia which included very wise advice by Breast Cancer Oncology surgeon Miss Carolyn Baker:
- every person’s breast cancer experience is unique and different;
- be careful of the avalanche of war stories of other people’s experiences
- seek an individualised care plan
- understand the pathology of your cancer which will set the tone of your treatment — grade, size, receptors, and nodes must be in your discussions
- age, breast size, general fitness all determine the best mode of care by your team (multiple modalities incorporating various treatments)
Every breast cancer experience, in my opinion, is an enormous opportunity to learn and refine so much about yourself. It’s also a gift to solidify the bonds of friendship and your tribe. Whilst there are proven treatment protocols for various stages of your cancer, with the loving support from my tribe, I decided to drop the cancer fight and embrace it — I made my experience my own.
I am a firm believer, your cancer is not your journey. It is an experience. There is no way I will allow cancer to dictate how I live my life. If detected early enough, the survival rates are exceptional with varieties of treatment options available.
Having a posse to hold space and listen whilst you verbally purge is exactly like going to group therapy. Do you feel renewed when you gather? You know what I mean – do you laugh so hard that your ribs and jaw ache as you talk to each other?
Can you share your deepest secrets and still be supported? Do you all take turns sharing your fears and worries, and talking out options and solutions?
Do you gather often to share yourselves and get stuff off your chest? Ahem, pun not intended but worthy of a snoopy snigger nonetheless.
For me having a posse during this shit festival called breast cancer was soul-saving.
My posse collectively lifted me up and held me high to the rising sun every time I felt low. Energetic medicine is miraculous like that. And even if you don’t believe in it just think of someone you love who isn’t home — does your love for them change? No. Do they feel your love regardless of where they are? Yes.
My posse hugged me (even remotely), made me laugh and cried alongside of me when I needed it the most. I never felt alone. We did this together. I am endlessly grateful for their constant presence.
I was never judged, only loved unconditionally. This is the gift of gathering your tribe. When women come together we form an unspoken union, a sacred space if you will.
I pulled together those people in my life that I could trust unconditionally, who would honour my secrets, hold me up, not gossip and offer me, love, in their own unique way.
The reward for that trust I have been gifted a space so sacred that I could enable a self-healing so powerful that I could reinvent myself.
Here are my tips for when to gather your tribe!
Allow yourself to be vulnerable.
A cancer diagnosis is a button pusher. No doubt about it, this news is a life changer for you as the patient and can induce terror in those around you. Everything you thought life was going to be is destroyed at that moment, at best it is put on hold. Expectations of how life was going to be are decimated.
To deal with the shock of diagnosis you have allowed yourself to be vulnerable. Allow yourself to feel all the feels, at your pace and in your way. Don’t hold anything in.
Allow yourself to ask for help. And make this time about your healing.
Accept there may be gossip
It’s human nature that people will talk. They’ll talk behind your back. They’ll talk about your diagnosis, your treatment, even your hair loss!
Sometimes people talk about your stuff behind your back because they are afraid to talk to you. They are afraid for you. They are afraid of getting cancer themselves.
Cancer is like cooties, it’s not catching but people don’t want to be associated with bald eagles! My rule of thumb is what people say about me is none of my business. They are entitled to opinions, and to vent or share their concerns.
My inner circle of friends speak to my face. We talk about everything and anything. We take it in turns going around the table when we do talk. That’s what friendship is all about.
Limit your communications
I used a private messenger chat forum via Facebook to communicate with my tribe. It meant I only had to provide an update once, rather than repeat bad news over and over.
My tribe included persons of trust in all aspects of my life. This way if I was out anywhere at an event or activity, I knew there’d be a posse member somewhere who I could lean on to simply walk, or run interference from nosy bastards.
Share info from your specialist
Your medical team are likely to throw a tonne of information at you. Share this literature and links, like that at BCNA, with your posse, so that you are all on the same knowledge page. It does make for great open conversation where you can openly debate science, facts and your emotional response.
Your job is to digest the knowledge you have cancer. Your friends have the job of holding space whilst you do that.
Have a communal calendar
Let your posse know when the big appointments are coming up. That way you have an entire tribe manifesting abundance in your favour. Additionally, you create the potential for offers from your tribe to give you lifts, cook meals, babysit kids, clean, and even shop for you.
Accept help when it is offered
After my mastectomy-reconstruction surgery, I had 145cm of suture line healing. It was difficult to stand for weeks. My whole body was battered and new. It was difficult to cook and clean. So when friends offered a meal to mop I begrudgingly accepted.
One of my friends said this to me. “Honey you are always the first to offer, please let me love you by cooking a meal or doing this one little thing. I can’t do anything else and feel helpless so let me do this little thing“.
I couldn’t argue with that and had to stick my ego in the closet! Believe it or not, your tribe make offers to help you because this is their way of showing you they love you!
Have firm boundaries
I was very strategic with who I invited into the messenger group and shared details with. There were representatives from all aspects of my life. These friends all knew they were in a circle of trust, and respected the confidentiality I had shared with them.
These people were able to share vital news within my networks on my behalf. My tribe fielded questions and nipped gossip in the bud. They were protective and loving, and this created space for me to focus on my healing. I was so blessed to be held in such a special space of loving support.
Know Who To Tell & Trust?
There is nothing worse than having to discuss and re-tell your cancer story over and over again. There’s only a number of critical people in your life that need to know the news immediately. Your partner and your kids. That’s it. You may choose to only tell this group and leave everyone else guessing.
A breast cancer diagnosis is terrifying, and not a chapter of your life that needs or should be done alone. No one needs to be that strong. Allowing yourself to be vulnerable, share the emotional load, and be supported strengthens your relationships.
Allowing yourself to be part of a tribe means you get to surround yourself with love and concentrate on healing. My wish for you is that you have a powerful posse too who can conjure a sacred circle if you are ever in need.
My Tribal Prayer
May my tribe always shine light upon you to find your own light.
May you never feel alone and always supported.
May your posse be filled with abundant love xxx
Karen Humphries is a Kinesiology Practitioner, Health & Business Coach, self-confessed laughaholic, and now Breast Cancer Advocate residing in Gippsland Victoria Australia. She loves being of service to the world with her humorous and positive approach to life, encouraging people to ‘choose to change and bloom from within.’