by Dagmar Herbstreuter
The three little words that turned my world upside down came on March 13, 2013. They were not the I love you fairy tale happy ending kinda words, but the devastating diagnosis, “You have cancer.”
Talk about a soul punch. Never having experienced such pain before, the only way I could describe it to my husband was that my soul hurt.
What I recall of those first days now is absolute craziness. After I was given my diagnosis, my first words were, “Can somebody please call my work and tell them I can’t come tomorrow?” Allison, my little angel patient navigator, said these ever-wise words, “Dagmar, don’t worry about it. This is your job now.”
The week to come brought test after test, the horror and fear of awaiting results, and so many open questions. I was the poster child of good health — how was this possible?
So let your journey begin here:
Stop, it’s done. For whatever reason or morbid lesson to be learned, you are the lucky number eight in the statistics. But, starting with the diagnosis, you are also a survivor.
So many times I had heard, “You will have to fight now,” but I didn’t really know what that meant. How do you fight for your life? I very quickly realized that what I had to fight were two thoughts: why me? and poor me!
There is no point to these two agonizing thoughts.
Why me? because getting cancer is random, you probably didn’t do anything to get this.
Poor me, because it doesn’t serve any purpose. Stop beating yourself up.
It will be a hard journey but you will find an amazing warrior within you.
You will lose your boobs, maybe.
You will most likely lose your hair.
There will be days that will be hard, really hard.
There will be days when everything sucks.
There will be days when you absolutely cannot get yourself together. Just accept it. As Elizabeth Gilbert says, “Embrace the glorious mess that you are.” You don’t have to be that strong, at least not every day. You can go into your cancer cave, just don’t feel sorry for yourself.
It will pass.
I came to find that there is beauty at the core of the beast, and you will come out a stronger person than ever before. It’s almost like magic. I had to accept and open myself to the outpouring of love and support. Because everyone I knew felt helpless, we were all carried on the same wave of love.
It is so very hard to give advice in this situation. Every story is different. Every person is different. You will find what works for you. We as human beings have amazing coping mechanisms.
Right away, we decided we didn’t want to call my condition cancer. It’s such an ugly word. So we decided to call it crab. (Get it? The astrological sign for Cancer.) I had a crab card that I would pull without shame. Cancer has a wicked sense of humor. Find it.
Completely stressed out before my treatment started, I had an epiphany: I decided to let my brilliant doctors do their jobs, while I would do what was within my realm of possibilities and carry on my life as normally as possible.
I danced, I laughed, I cried. I found humor in cancer. I found a crazy sense of fashion. I found loads of love. I found incredible, strong, outrageous fellow survivors. Cancer patients are a special lot.
Life continues with all its craziness and tenderness and awesomeness and humor and heartbreak and love.
You can do it.
I wrap you in a big, warm hug—
What Helped Me Through the Angst
My yoga practice has helped me greatly throughout my first phase of treatment. Sometimes, it was just sitting on the mat in my class, feeling connected and being part of a community.
P.S. Don’t forget to talk to your wig girl. She is an endless source of information!
About Dagmar …
Dagmar Herbstreuter was born in Germany in 1964. She moved to the San Francisco Bay Area in 1989, as part of a career-training program for eighteen months. Dagmar is still there, still learning. She has circled the globe in her field of work for the past twenty years, so she considers herself a global citizen. Dagmar loves yoga, anything creative — design, fashion, photography — and being in the great outdoors.