Breast Cancer: Survivors' Wisdom for the Newly Diagnosed

Being diagnosed with any disease or illness is life altering. It is normal to experience a wide range of emotions and thought processes as the news settles in. For the incredible women highlighted in this post, being diagnosed with breast cancer changed their lives forever, and in ways they could not imagine.
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Being diagnosed with any disease or illness is life altering. It is normal to experience a wide range of emotions and thought processes as the news settles in. For the incredible women highlighted in this post, being diagnosed with breast cancer changed their lives forever, and in ways they could not imagine. Many of the women I spoke with expressed the belief that the journey was a gift, helping them change their life path, find their true passion and push the limits of their comfort zone in order to help others. All of the women shared one common goal for the future -- to be a solid foundation and source of support and knowledge for those newly diagnosed.

In honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, they share a glimpse of their stories and pearls of wisdom for anyone who has recently received a breast cancer diagnosis:

My "go-to" motto or quote during my breast cancer journey:

"'Knowledge is power.' The more you know about your diagnosis, treatment and resources, the sooner you can begin to heal. Once you have started the healing process, you can start to pay it forward by sharing your story to help others." -- Jewel, 52, survivor of stage II ductal breast cancer, estrogen positive, HER-2 negative.

"Mark Twain's 'The two most important days of your life are the day you were born and the day you found out why.' Having a purpose in life, an overriding quest to make life better for someone other than yourself, is a gift like life itself. It guides our steps, encourages us in our pursuits, takes some of the sting out of our failures and makes our victories all the more sweet. It also becomes a special blessing when you are in the midst of fighting for your own life." -- Donna Hill, 64, two-times survivor of infiltrating ductile and carcinoma in situ, author of YA fantasy novel, The Heart of Applebutter Hill

"'I have sent you nothing but angels.' Cancer is a challenging path but I learned that many gifts can come from the experience. This journey has reminded me to look for the lesson in everything." -- Paulette Kouffman Sherman, 43. Survivor of Stage II triple negative breast cancer, psychologist and author of "The Cancer Path" at

Five things I learned about cancer:

"1. I am a crybaby. 2. I look good bald! 3. I am stronger than I ever thought I was. 4. Wonton soup, vanilla ice cream and ginger ale all go great together. 5. It is okay to ask for help." -- Jewel

"1. Boobs are overrated; yes, they are nice, but not as nice as life. 2. Cancer treatment and diagnosis has changed considerably since I watched my grandmothers die of the disease in the 60s and 70s. 3. Patients need to be proactive about their care. 4. It's nice to look back and see I did a good job of conducting myself with grace and dignity through the experience. 5. It's even nicer to know I have beaten it and that my vigilance of breast self-examination and willingness to trust my husband's instincts about going to a new doctor resulted in early detection." -- Donna

"1. Everything in life holds lessons. 2. Sometimes our wound is our way into the world (James Hillman). 3. A near death experience can reveal your soul's purpose. 4. Your spirit can guide you through anything, if you listen. 5. When you have traveled through darkness, you can guide others." -- Paulette

My top three pieces of advice for someone newly diagnosed:

"Always get three opinions. Learn how to prioritize. And, take some time for yourself -- whether doing something relaxing every day or following your passions and dreams." -- Diana Raab, Ph.D., survivor of DCIS -- ductal carcinoma in situ, author of Healing With Words at

"Develop a healing team. Take time to rest and reflect. Engage in something you are passionate about that will bring you positive energy." -- Paulette

"Educate yourself as much as you can (treatment options, medications, etc.), partner with your doctors and do anything and everything you need to in order to get through it." -- Sonia Byrd, 40, survivor of invasive lobular breast cancer

"Get your rest, accept help from friends and family and nurture yourself because you deserve it." -- Audrey Darrow, 57, survivor of lobular carcinoma, founder of Earth Source Organics/Righteously Raw Chocolate

My thoughts regarding cancer and hair loss:

"I lost all my hair and tried wigs but often they felt too hot. So, I wore pretty scarves and got a henna crown. I learned to feel beautiful no matter what because real beauty comes from within. I encourage you to view this as an opportunity to see yourself that way too." -- Paulette

"Society puts such an emphasis on hair. Every woman is beautiful -- and not because of her hair. She is beauty because of her personality, the experiences she has lived through, the journey she has taken, and her compassion towards others. When/if Cancer takes your hair, smile for three reasons -- it's one less thing to do in the morning, it will grow back, and you have more important things to worry about right now!" -- Anonymous

My advice for the first 24 hours after someone receives a breast cancer diagnosis:

"Try to suspend your judgment about all of the bad things you think might happen and all of the bad things this means to your life. You're not a fortune teller, and you need to remind yourself of that. How often have you thought you knew for sure what was going to happen, only to be totally wrong? So, when you find yourself thinking negative things, stop yourself and turn your thoughts to something else like getting information, and being attentive to your physical and mental health. Do deep breathing, take a bubble bath, go for a walk, do anything that makes you feel comforted in the moment." -- Donna

"The news is shocking. It is okay to cry, be scared and process things. You can ask for help and put together a great support team. Know you aren't alone and you will get through this. You may even find there are many lessons along this challenging journey" -- Paulette

"Do what you have to do, whether that is to pray, yell, scream, etc. The spotlight is on you at this point. Just know that everything works out for good. I freaked out at first -- had my human emotions, but then it was time to take control. Remember, after the initial reaction, it is time to make a plan." -- Sonia

"First, just breathe. Things will be alright and you should know you are never alone." -- Jewel

How the word cancer has changed for me, from the initial diagnosis until now:

"Cancer was a scary word that could mean the end of life, but now I view it more as an unexpected path that has the potential to align you more with spirit and allow you to gain clarity." -- Paulette

"Before being diagnosed with cancer, I never thought about it much. Since my diagnosis, I think about it all the time. I feel it all the time. I still have lymphedema, scar tissue and pain. It has become a part of me, like the scars I have from my port or the two incisions from the removal of the tumor and cancerous lymph nodes. I find that pre-diagnosis I probably never mentioned the word Cancer, but today I proudly wear it on my sleeve and share my story with anyone that will listen. I want to help ease their fear and the uncertainty." -- Jewel

My advice to someone concerned about work and taking care of themselves and family while undergoing treatment:

"It's really nice to have a little help sometimes, and I'd advise anyone with Cancer to use this as a time to reach out to your friends, family and community. You will be able to do some things, and you should try to keep a normal schedule in some ways -- not just to fulfill your obligations or to avoid being a burden, but because anything normal you can do helps you feel ... well, normal, and that can be a rare feeling during cancer treatment" -- Donna

" Learn to let things go. I am very independent but I learned to let people do things for me even if it was not the way I would have done it; I had to 'let it go'. My family would volunteer to do laundry and cleaning and friends and coworker prepared meals. Do what you feel is right for you in your situation." -- Jewel

My thoughts on support systems:

"I believe in support systems and would suggest anyone newly diagnosed to find one. Mine was Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC). The group has conferences, seminars, a website and publications. The more I looked into Breast Cancer online, the more confused I became. Once morning I gave the LBBC website a chance; I read the stories of survivors, their treatments, their happiness and their sorrows. I was reading about me...and eventually found myself joining in on the conversations. I also found that LBBC had a publication about African American women with Breast Cancer; I had never seen anything specific for this group of women, and I knew that this was an organization that cared about me." -- Jewel

"Solicit the support of those who love you and who you can count on." -- Diana

"If it is truly an uplifting group, go. If it is a group where people wring their hands and constantly rehearse all of the negatives, run away as fast as you can!" -- Donna

Even though I was diagnosed with breast cancer...

"I never let the cancer have me. I took charge of me, my life , my goals and my desires for my future. I accepted the gift and embarked on the journey knowing that I would win, grow as a person and never let it beat me down." -- Audrey

"I viewed it as a spiritual path and this helped me learn how to transform fear to love, to achieve greater wholeness and to help others on this journey." -- Paulette

"I realize that life goes on and that with all bad comes good. Having survived Breast Cancer has helped me inspire others in their own journey." -- Diana

"Breast cancer does not define who I am. I am strength, inspiration and hope." -- Jewel

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