Start with a Strong Foundation

Start with a Strong Foundation*Resilience is an unshakeable belief that even in the darkest of hours, everything is going to work out. At times it can be tough to hang onto this belief. When first diagnosed, tears of sadness and fears of the future, are typically the initial emotions you experience. If you don’t have much resilience before the beginning of your life- changing journey, it is important to learn to develop it to ease your transition to your new life.

When I was first diagnosed, over 14 years ago, I was definitely in shock and denial. I couldn’t believe this had happened to me. I felt like I was at the prime of my life. I had a wonderful husband and two great kids, a nice house in the suburbs, good health, and a successful career. I didn’t have any worries about things that really matter.

Boy, was I wrong.

With no warning, I suddenly found myself falling into the rabbit hole, just like Alice. Ever since that fateful day, I’ve been on a journey through Breast Cancer Wonderland.

If you are curious about my use of the phrase “breast cancer wonderland” it comes from my lifelong love for the Lewis Carroll book. Having breast cancer is not only distressing, but it is at times chaotic, and makes no sense. Just like the world that Alice faced.

I’ve learned a lot about resilience over the years, what it is and how to build it. There have been times when I’ve slipped into the pool of tears, but have managed to learn how to swim to shore and move ahead with my important goals.

I want to share with you some of what I’ve learned over the years about resilience and how to build it. I can assure you that you are stronger than you may think. You are not your disease, and you can do this.

To help us get started on this important work, let’s start with the stages of grief. This will provide the foundation that you need to build your resilient self. It is generally thought that the work first introduced by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross, in her book On Death and Dying (1969) provides us with a model to use to help give us our base.

The Kubler-Moss model, identifies five stages of grief :

5 Stages of Grief

You may move through these stages slowly or quickly, or can sometimes get “stuck” in one stage. To move ahead I recommend you get some professional counseling from a psychiatrist, psychologist, social worker or other healthcare professional.

Questions you may have at the various stages of your transition

Stage 1: Denial.

When you are first diagnosed, you may feel a sense of disbelief. ‘How could this happen? Is it really happening? Maybe the doctor got it wrong. After all, they do occasionally make mistakes or mispeak.“No one gets breast cancer at my age. It must be a mistake. Maybe I need to get a second (or third) opinion?”

Stage 2Anger.

As you start down the path, which may feel like an unending series of meetings with physicians, diagnostic tests, you will probably feel anger. “I’m mad that this happened! I’m mad at God! I don’t understand why he/she has abandoned me to this scary and horrible disease. I’m mad at my body. How could it betray me in this way?

I’m mad at my family, I must have inherited this gene from someone in my family tree. I’m mad at people who don’t have breast cancer. I’m mad that this wasn’t caught earlier. I’m mad at the food system, sugar, GMOs, salt, fat and not having enough time to take proper care of myself. I’m also mad at everyone who tells you, usually diplomatically (but sometimes, not) that it is all my fault. I must have done something wrong. Sometimes “friends (think frenemies)” will fuel your anger by thinking secretly (and sometimes not so secretly ) “I’m glad it’s you, and not me.”

Stage 3: Bargaining.

You are now in the middle of things. You may still feel some disbelief and anger, but you start to bargain with whatever God you follow.

If you are an atheist or agnostic and do not believe in God, you may believe that you only have you to bargain with. You have your intuition, the distinct, unique inner voice deep inside of you, and the tough mind you’ve cultivated. You also have a strong sense of morality built upon conversations with others, your education, and your experiences. However, this stage may take on the form of attempting to avoid the situation.

When you do not subscribe to a religion, you may wish that this is just a dream or a nightmare. You might try to bargain with time, hoping somehow you can turn back the clock to the time before you were diagnosed. You might even beg your doctor, yourself, or your own mind to not let this be real. The same promises might arise that you will become a model citizen, sibling, spouse, parent, grandparent, and engage in service to others. I’ll always be kind to strangers, the homeless, the people who don’t have enough money to properly feed their families and everyone else on the planet who is also suffering with a chronic and serious disease.

For the rest of us, the bargaining might go something like this: Please God, let it be a mistake. I promise I will not doubt you or your love from now through eternity. Please God, just let me live long enough to see my children graduate from high school and college. I promise I’ll help with the school play, planning the Senior Prom, not criticize them for failing to do an assignment. Bake cookies every week for an afterschool snack, walk the dog when my kids are too tired or not interested, and do everything else on my “To Do” list which I created in your name.

Stage 4: Depression.

At some point during your journey (possibly more than once), you may find yourself slipping into mental anguish and depression. Who wouldn’t be depressed?

You’ve just been told you have a chronic and serious disease, will need to undergo treatment which might include surgery, radiation and/or chemotherapy. You will probably lose your hair. You may feel overwhelmed with fatigue at times and could have difficulty eating foods that you normally love. You will have to endure endless calls from well-intentioned friends and acquaintances to “just check in and see how you are doing.” Depending on your mood and your relationship to the caller, you may find yourself repeating the same information multiple times a week just to keep everyone “in the loop”. Some breast cancer patients now resort to email chains or private FB groups so they don’t have to answer the same questions again, and again and again.

If your sadness lasts more than a day or two, I recommend you seek professional help from a qualified mental health professional.

Stage 5: Acceptance.

Once you’ve made it to the point where you can begin to accept your situation, life can begin again with the “new normal”. By this time you have already been through dozens of tests, treatments, moments of joy and moments of sadness.

Now is a good time to give yourself the gift of being kind to yourself and granting yourself time to think about and appreciate all that you’ve been through.

Give yourself the gift of time. Sit quietly with your thoughts for at least a short time each day. Go outside and breathe in the gift of the natural world. Know that you are strong and resilient. You are not your disease and you can do this.

Let’s do this together.

*Please note, the information provided on this site is purely to provide education and entertainment. I am writing from my personal experience and training as a Registered Dietitian Nutritionist. I am not a Medical Doctor (MD) and do NOT provide medical advice, diagnosis or treatment.. For any questions you have about any medical condition, please seek the advice of a qualified physician or other qualified health provider.

Hi, I am

Barbara Spalding MS, RDN, Culinary Dietitian

As a dietitian and world traveler, I love bold flavors — in food and in life. 14 years ago, I fell down the rabbit hole into Breast Cancer Wonderland. Since then, I’ve learned to cook differently while savoring the pleasures of food and companionship. I’ve built a resilient new life and a bold new kitchen. Let me show you the flavors of the world.
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