Longtime survivors say they’re encouraged by efforts worldwide to find a cure and by the long-term survival statistics. But they also report that when they received the news that they had breast cancer, the numbers took on new meaning: “I know what my diagnosis says,” so many women told us. “It says I have breast cancer. I know what the statistics are—that I have more of a chance of surviving this disease than ever before. But what does breast cancer really mean for me?”
As of January 2012, it was estimated that more than 2.9 million women were living in the United States with a history of invasive breast cancer and an additional 226,870 women who would be diagnosed that year. The median age of those learning they had invasive breast cancer was 61.5.
There is no simple answer to this question. Consider just a few of the countless meanings of breast cancer that may come to mind. First, there are the technical meanings in medical dictionaries. These are straightforward, and that’s good, because your doctors need precise definitions in order to understand your case and plan your treatment. You want members of your medical team to be clear with you and with each other about the meanings of tumors, the stages of cancer, lesions, metastasis or the development of secondary malignant growths, and so on.
But there are many other meanings of breast cancer in terms of how it affects you emotionally, physically, socially, and financially. These meanings first show up in the form of questions such as: What quality of life will I have? Will my family and friends be there to help me? Will I have to give up my job? Will I still be lovable? Why does this scare me so much? What will happen to my family/my children if I die?
These are the toughest questions, and they don’t have concrete answers. Even if you seek help and advice from others, only you will be able to answer them. So remember, although your desire for immediate answers is understandable, try to be patient. In the end, surprising answers will come your way when you least expect them. Some will spontaneously show up when you’re pondering them alone in the middle of the night or while you’re talking to someone about something else. And others will only come through experience and by riding out your new learning curve.