Diagnosis Breast Cancer: My Saving Graces

  • Oct 23, 2019 -
  • Aging with Dignity
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Leslie Piet, RN

My journey with breast cancer began 20 months ago and includes what I hope is a final surgery in October 2019.  The initial trauma of hearing a diagnosis of breast cancer was quickly followed by information overload.

Even after working as a nurse for more than 40 years, some of this journey felt new and uncertain to me.  I’ve cared for countless patients with cancer in my professional life. This was my first experience being a cancer patient.  There were so many initial unknowns – the size of the tumor, prognosis, preferred treatment, and surgical options.  I wanted to know everything, but I had more questions than answers. I was in a hurry – hearing a cancer diagnosis makes a person want to get things done quickly – yet it seemed like all the gears of the healthcare and insurance mazes were moving so slowly.   

Uncertainty. Beside the cancer diagnosis, it was a lot of the uncertainty that kept me up at night.  Much of this diminished as treatment plans were made and carried out over time.

Fortunately, there were a few SAVING GRACES that gave me certainty in uncertain times:

My Family:I went home and told my husband about the diagnosis. His initial reaction was “Well, I’m in it with you for better or for worse, Leslie. I’m with you all the way.” Sure, I could list all the things he did for me along the way, including driving to way too many doctor appointments these past 20 months. But the most important thing is that he was there for me. And I knew he would be. But he said it to me right away. That meant the world.

My friends: I used to underestimate the value of cards. I do not anymore. Many of my family and friends sent cards or notes, or a small gift, or simply said they were praying for me. I kept every one of those cards, and they remind me of the kindness and love that I have been so fortunate to receive. There were many times when my anxiety level was very high, and I’d look at those cards and remember the prayers. They helped to sustain my energy and ability to cope. It was a great help to use the technology of Caringbridge.org to keep people advised on my condition. It also helped me not to have to repeat too many times what was happening to me.

My Five Wishes: Many times over this journey I have thought about my own mortality. Again, the uncertainty can be overwhelming.I’m not afraid of dying, but I’m concerned about what can happen before I get there. I first completed my Five Wishes advance directive more than a dozen years ago – it spells out who I trust to make healthcare decisions for me, what types of treatment I would want and not want, how to help me be comfortable, and what I want my family to know. The healthcare decisions are important, but it’s the other issues of the heart and soul that really matter. When not tended to, they can be a source of great anxiety and uncertainty. But when you’ve given it thought and consideration – and you’ve said “I love you” to the people who matter most to you – then, even in the midst of uncertainty, you can live peacefully with the knowledge that you’ve taken care of the most important parts of life.

I hope my dear husband will not have to use my Five Wishes document for a long time.  But I know he is well aware of my values and wishes, and he will carry them out.  This gives me a great deal of peace.  Having my Five Wishes in place is an act of love for my family so no one has to second-guess my wishes.

Leslie Piet, RN, MA, CCM, CHPN is a nurse who has served the community surrounding Baltimore, Maryland, for more than 40 years. She co-authored the reader’s guide to The Four Things that Matter Most by Dr. Ira Byock, has given numerous workshops on advance care planning, and serves on the Board of Directors of Aging with Dignity.