Did you know that 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer? This statistic blows me away. Yet at the same time I recognize how easy it is for me to skim over, especially as more and more awareness has spread during recent years. But things change when that one is your friend (or sister or mom or aunt). It suddenly all hits home in a brand new way. Today is Breast Cancer Awareness Day (and October is the “pink” month, I’m sure you all know by now), so I thought it would be a wonderful day to give platform to my friend Geena to share about this important women’s issue from right inside the center of it. Geena is a wife and mom of two young children… and she’s also a brave woman of faith, excited to share her story online for the first time today. It’s such an honor to have her here during 31 Days of Women Empowering Women. Thank you, Geena, for your courage and heart to see other women empowered. You’re an inspiration on so many levels! xo
As I enter the waiting room all I can see is pink. Cupboards lined in pink garbage bags, pink balloons cover the ceiling, pink paper cut-outs of “women” hide whatever colour the walls normally are… It’s breast cancer awareness month and I am waiting to have what has become my routine scan. It’s hard to believe that it was two years since I had that first mammogram that later confirmed that the lump I had found in my breast was cancer.
I was 37 years old, directing a YWAM centre, and mother of a 2.5 year old and an 11 month old baby. I could not believe this was happening to us!
There is a long wait between those initial tests and getting the results. It was during one of those days of waiting that the Lord spoke to me very clearly that my life was in his hands. Although that’s a really beautiful word, it carried with it no measure of guarantee for my survival. The word brought me great comfort but really what did it mean????
Words like mastectomy, chemotherapy, radiation, treatment, infertility, invaded every part of our lives. It was Stage 4 Cancer (it had spread to my rib), which is only one stage away from “I am so sorry there is nothing more we can do for you…
When the prognosis is difficult to swallow.
It’s funny the things that run through your mind in times like this, and for the most part it kind of felt like it was not really happening to me. One of my stand-out ridiculous memories of this time is the immediate need I felt that I’d need to find my babies a new mummy.
Hand-in-hand, Chris and I had just walked out of the surgeon’s office and all I could think about was my babies and that I could not trust anyone—not even Chris(!)—to find them a new mummy. Thankfully it was the only time through this whole journey that I thought I was going to die, but I just remember starting to make a mental list in my mind of possibilities. Ahhhhhh, I am so glad those thoughts didn’t last longer than a few minutes!
The hidden costs of breast cancer.
Some of the hardest moments for me during all of this was being told that I really should not, and probably could not, have any more children. Before I knew what was going on I found myself in an IVF clinic discussing my options. What the! How did I end up here?!
So much of my life had changed and it had only just begun. But yet nothing really had changed. I was the same, my family was the same, and most of all my God had not changed at all!
I had no idea how vain I was until I was confronted with the reality of losing my long, blonde hair. As always, the fear of it was far worse than the reality of it. In the end Chris shaved both his and my hair off, and we sported our bald heads for the next eight months!
Early detection can make all the difference.
People often ask me how I found the lump since I was not in the practice of doing breast examinations at all. (I hope you are doing them but I wasn’t.) I was still breast-feeding my youngest, Will, so lumpy breasts were not uncommon. If it was not for him I am not sure I would have had even noticed. I cannot stress how important early detection is; it really can make all the difference.
Back in the pink-filled waiting room I now wait as my veins have never recovered. They will want every nurse to try to find a “good” vein before they resign to the fact that they will need to get a doctor to find a vein they can use via ultrasound, so I sit and wait for the next one-and-a-half hours as several different ladies try their best at making me not feel like a pin cushion!
How you can help a woman dealing with breast cancer.
When asked what has helped me the most during this time I quickly answer, “a great God a great family and great friends”. Chemo is not so bad when your friends come with you and give you foot massages throughout it all.
Expressions of love like massages, babysitting, prayer, housecleaning, and shopping trips really made all the difference to me. My kids normalised the whole experience, as they did not understand what cancer was. They just treated me like they always had, and when I could not do things with them or for them I was so grateful for all the aunties that could!! The treatment is grueling and exhausting. I am so thankful for those dear ones that remained active in caring for me after the “crisis” period was over.
If you are the one facing breast cancer.
When the initial crisis subsides, the treatment plan becomes your new norm, and even when the treatment is all finished, it’s really important not to forget! I believe it takes at least two years to recover from breast cancer treatment like I had – it’s just so invasive and intensive – so it’s hugely important that you (and others) don’t forget too soon as it has long lasting effects.
I was in such a rush for that season to be over that I wanted to throw myself into other things – even get back to my work with leading training schools in YWAM. (And I did – perhaps too soon.) Today I would say do what you need to do to feel better. Give yourself time and space – time to reflect, to recover, and to be restored.
It’s a costly journey and at times you feel like your very identity as a woman has been robbed (breasts, hair, fertility, capacity to give/serve others taken from you almost overnight, etc.). It costs you financially, but more than that it costs you emotionally, physically, and spiritually. So be kind to yourself, don’t be in a hurry. Allow yourself time now so you can dream, play and run again later.
Bio: Geena Pettigrove is now a stay-at-home mum of two little darlings, Matilda and Will . Along with her man Chris, they are now in transition from city life to country living in Victoria, Australia. Geena is a social worker and has worked extensively amongst poor communities, with a focus on issues related to women and children. Geena is also currently working on a children’s picture book titled When Your Mummy Gets Sick.
Dear friends, it’s hard to imagine being anyone, much less a mom with young babies, and dealing with a stage four breast cancer diagnosis. I’m so inspired by Geena’s story of resilience, humility, and faith in the character of God in the midst of her diagnosis, treatment, and recovery process. I don’t know about you but I also have a renewed conviction about doing regular self breast examinations – not based out of fear, but based out of the desire to take care of myself and my family and to learn from the advice of an experienced friend.
In the comments, please share with Geena one thing you learned, or were inspired by, through her sharing her breast cancer story for the first time online today.