Your First To Do List
Alright breasties, I made you your first post-diagnosis to do list. Reflecting back, there are a few things (6 to be exact) that really helped me right after getting diagnosed and I’m here to share those with you.
1. Share your news on social media. Of course you’ll tell your closest friends and family, but I could not have dreamed up how much support I got from sharing my news on social media. I was inundated with supportive messages, to the point that I even felt a little overwhelmed by the desire to reply to everyone. It cast a little ray of light on me when I was at my lowest point. Don’t get me wrong, I still had plenty of anger and I was more devastated than I had ever been, but it helped. People I didn’t know very well shared with me ways that I had impacted them in their lives. It was incredible. It also led to an outpouring of cards and gifts. I mean, who doesn’t want to get presents in the mail every day? I really do mean every day, enough to cover the walls of my bedroom with cards. People sent lotions, flowers, baskets, blankets, and jewelry; the list could go on. When I felt like my whole world was turned upside down, my support system was bombarding me with positive things to push out the bad. And it kind of worked. I would caution that some people will try to tell you what treatments you should or shouldn’t do, and share (very unhelpful) stories of relatives or friends who died from cancer. But all of that will be outweighed by the love you will receive. A community I didn’t know existed rallied around me, and for that I am forever grateful.
2. Set up a fundraiser. Cancer is really expensive. And people want to help. I was able to raise a lot more money than I expected from over 140 donors. I know what you may be thinking – there aren’t 140 people that would give me money. Believe me, that’s what I thought, too. Also, this is a great task to ask someone in your family or a close friend to do for you. They want to find ways to help so it’s a great chance to delegate. We chose youcaring.com (now a part of GoFundMe.com) because of minimal fees. Youcaring has no platform fee (the charge for creating a fundraiser on the website), but it does have a 2.9% + $0.30 processor fee per transaction. The processor fee may seem exorbitant, but every single fundraising website has this fee. The youcaring fee is actually on the low end, while other sites range from 3-5% (combined with a platform fee). All that to say, Youcaring seemed to make each donation count the most, which is why we chose them. I froze my eggs in between surgery and chemo, a procedure not covered at all by insurance and I didn’t have to worry about being able to afford it. Also, you will max out your out-of-pocket insurance deductible VERY quickly through treatment. That was also covered by the money I raised. You have so many things to worry about as a cancer patient. Make sure money isn’t one of them.
3. Set up a meal train. Picture getting home-cooked meals delivered to your door every day from your friends, family, and coworkers. Having a meal train was one of my favorite things during treatment. Each morning, I would check the site to find out what the meal was going to be and I looked forward to it all day. This site makes it really easy: https://www.mealtrain.com/. There’s also an easy way people can send you meals from afar via a website called https://www.goldbely.com/. They send famous foods from restaurants all over the US to your door. We got muffalettas from New Orleans, crawfish from Louisiana, meat pies from Baltimore, lobster rolls from Maine, tamales from Texas, and barbeque from St. Louis. My meal train was full for 2 months. People do deliver the meals themselves and some days you won’t feel like having visitors, but everyone that came by was really understanding and didn’t linger if I wasn’t feeling up to it.
4. Make shirts! This is another way to raise money, but more importantly, it's a way to unite a force of people in support of you. My boyfriend, Joe, designed mine and came up with the coolest, most unique and badass cancer shirt I’ve ever seen. It was fully me - a little nerdy and a little edgy. My name is Laila and my cancer is triple positive. So he came up with the phrase ‘long live laila’ and turned the L’s into breast cancer ribbons with a + sign above each L. That’s the scientific way to denote positive expression of a marker. So the plus signs represent the 3 positive markers my cancer expresses (estrogen, progesterone, and HER2). On the back, we put a message of awareness, ‘check yo self’ (Parks and Rec reference), and Joe cleverly added 2 block font periods (.)(.) He designed them on www.customink.com/. Funny story, all of the shirts got misprinted the first time around with an ellipsis (…) on the back. Picture Joe having to call Customink and explain to one of their reps why we needed the shirts to have 2 boobies periods, not 3.
5. Find (at least) 1 person in your situation. In the first few days after my diagnosis, I remember feeling like I hated everyone who was healthy and didn’t think they could ever understand how I felt (sorry, healthy folks). But I wasn’t comfortable with the idea of going to a support group. If you do, by all means go for it. But for me, I wasn’t ready to be in the cancer club. And if you’re young like me, you’ll also be the youngest person in the clinic at all of your appointments by a long shot. A friend of mine from growing up was diagnosed 1 year before me. When I was really upset and angry at the world, I reached out to her. She couldn’t change anything for me, but she understood. She also set up a lot of the things on this list and that’s where I got a lot of these ideas from (thanks, Jenna!!). More recently, I started connecting with other survivors my age on Instagram. I've found several other young women who have the same diagnosis as me, who are receiving the same treatments as me. There is also a group called The Breasties (thebreasties.org) that unites women with breast cancer and puts on wellness retreats. I'm obsessed with their mission and I hope to get to go to one of their retreats. I’ll report back if I do!
6. Consider a boudoir shoot. Ok, so this is the racey suggestion of this post. Being 28 and hating the idea of losing my breasts, I did a boudoir shoot the day before my double mastectomy. I went back and forth on whether or not to do it for a solid week. I was worried it would always serve as a reminder of what I had lost. But then I realized I could do an 'after' shoot as well to show myself I was still beautiful after my mastectomy (and there were some pretty badass examples on Pinterest of ladies looking so strong and beautiful with breast cancer to pull inspiration from). I was too upset to go shop for lingerie among other (healthy) women who weren’t losing their breasts, so a good friend of mine did the shopping for me. I ended up having a BLAST. It was so fun to have my hair and makeup done. I felt like a Victoria’s Secret model for a couple of hours before returning to reality of being a cancer patient. I haven’t done the 'after' shoot yet, but now that I’m done with the hardest treatments, I'll be doing it very soon. And I love my photos from the before shoot. They don’t make me feel sad at all. They are beautiful pictures and despite all of the changes my body has endured over the last 9 months, I am still that person and that makes me happy.