What Happens When a Serial Optimist is Diagnosed with Breast Cancer by Amy Banocy

In December 2020, in the midst of the COVID-19 global pandemic, I was diagnosed with breast cancer, after a routine mammogram showed abnormalities. Like so many, my diagnosis came as a complete shock, as I truly believed I was at my healthiest. I was only 43.

While breast cancer certainly left me with physical trauma and scars, it was the emotional and mental pains that impacted me most. “Before cancer Amy” was a serial optimist, and I truly thought I'd handle cancer the same way I did everything else, with positivity and a big smile. I declared loudly that I would "embrace cancer" and I would not allow for any negative vibes. Well, that didn't last long.

Perhaps, not surprising to an outsider, but to me it was a shock to my system and I didn't know how to handle it. With a change in diagnosis (Ductal Carcinoma Situ (DCIS) to Stage 2, Grade 3, HER-2+ Invasive Carcinoma), surgical plans I thought would be different (bilateral mastectomy with breast implants), and the news that I would need further treatments (chemotherapy, immunotherapy, and radiation) which then had their own modifications and adjustments over time, I'd had enough of this roller coaster and wanted off! I lost both of my breasts, underwent five months of chemotherapy, and felt the weakest and worst I have in life. I endured twenty-five rounds of targeted radiation which left me exhausted. I completed one year of targeted immunotherapy. I had multiple surgeries with painful recoveries.

With all of this happening, I simply couldn't remain "Happy smiling Amy", but I felt so much shame being anyone else. It was all I knew. Plus, all the positive messaging thrown at women with breast cancer (stay strong, fight like a girl, warrior, etc) made me feel like even more of a failure. As a personal development junkie, I tried returning to some of the books I’d read, looking for ways to move out of the darkness, but I just wasn’t drawn to the words like I once had been. With the support of my therapist, family, and friends, I cautiously leaned into the harder emotions I was feeling like anger, sadness, and envy.

Over time, I learned the importance of allowing all of our emotions to come into play, not just the so-called positive ones. I utilized yoga, meditation, and journaling as ways to help me, but truly the most effective resource I had was right inside me; letting myself feel all of the emotions, and releasing what I could through screams and cries. As a writer and speaker, words have always set me free, so I decided to document my experience, which I later published as a memoir, “Baring It All”.

I am passionate about enhancing the conversation around the emotional well-being of women with breast cancer, as well as changing the messaging we receive so that it also includes space for us to feel the hard stuff. Cancer isn't pretty. Cancer is grueling and brings up challenging emotions for many. I want women to know they can cry, scream, lay on the floor, and feel weak, whatever it is that makes them feel like a whole person, and not just one who has to be strong all the time. A woman with breast cancer has to go through enough and I don't want one more woman to feel shame over her own emotions like I did, on top of it all. It is hard to believe that this December marked three years since I received that life-altering phone call. Some days it feels like it’s been longer, while at other times it feels like it was just last week.

While I have finished all of my treatments, do not receive routine scans, and continue to heal physically, mentally, and emotionally, cancer didn't end when I chose to ring the bell. There is the ongoing fear of recurrence. There is trauma to process. There are doctor appointments. There are scans whenever my oncologist isn’t comfortable with something I’m feeling in my body. There’s the recoiling in my stomach every time I fill out a medical form and have to now mark ‘yes’, I have had cancer. Cancer has become a part of me and my story. And while it still wreaks havoc and may always have a presence, I am happy to say I feel the healthiest I have in years and cancer is definitely not defining me.

My memoir, “Baring it All: Reflections of my Breast Cancer F*ckery”, is a raw and vulnerable look into the emotional impacts breast cancer had on me, my family, and my life. As a breast cancer survivor and Coach, I am committed to my mission of normalizing the emotional trauma of breast cancer and to create safe, sacred spaces for women with breast cancer, where we can fully express our emotions, through conversation, creativity, and spirituality.

“Baring it All: Reflections of my Breast Cancer F*ckery” can be found on Amazon and other online retailers. I can be found on Instagram @amybanocy and on Facebook at Amy Braverman Banocy. For more info visit www.amybanocy.com.

Amy Banocy

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