If there’s one thing women are really good at, it’s apologizing. I think some of it is simply expressing empathy, as in “I’m sorry you’re having a bad day at work.”
But ever since I was diagnosed with DCIS/stage 0 breast cancer I’ve heard other survivors apologize for or qualify their emotions and opinions, and I’ve done it too. I think it’s high time we stopped doing that.
I first encountered this when I wrote an essay for the Omaha World-Herald about an unpleasant breast biopsy. I heard from close to a dozen women who had the same procedure and didn’t like it any more than I did. Nearly all of them sounded apologetic or qualified their complaints, as though it’s their fault the procedure sucked. One woman said she’s usually not such a wimp. The point is, she wasn’t a wimp here either. Things hurt or they don’t, and if they do that doesn’t mean we’re somehow weak.
The other thing I’ve wrestled with is whether having such an early stage cancer meant I could call myself a survivor. I’ve talked to other women with DCIS who felt the same way. I touched on this last year in When Do You Become A Breast Cancer Survivor?
The short answer is yes, we’ve earned the right, for a couple of reasons. First, while DCIS isn’t invasive, it can become invasive if left to its own devices. Second, the treatments you go through are the same as they are for invasive cancers. Some women go through surgery followed by six weeks of radiation. (While that timeline is being reduced thanks to improved technologies, it’s still the norm.) Some, like me, get mastectomies. These are not trivial treatments.
I should note that none of the women I’ve met with more advanced breast cancer have made me feel like I had “Cancer Light.” I’ve never been made to feel anything less than part of a sisterhood.
As early stage survivors, we need to follow their example. If you heard a friend had breast cancer, you wouldn’t think her experience didn’t count if it was caught early instead of at a later stage. Do yourself the same favor. Your experience counts, and you’ve earned the right to call yourself a survivor. No ifs, ands or buts.