A breast cancer diagnosis can bring a wide range of emotions including shock, fear, sadness, and anger. The support of family, friends, and others can be helpful as you go through diagnosis, treatment, and beyond, but many cancer patients and survivors will tell you that despite that support, cancer can be a lonely journey. However, it is important to know that you are not alone. Here to share her story and what she has learned is Sarah Sanders…
Sarah Sanders is a 35-year-old marketing/public relations professional currently living on the Upper West Side of Manhattan. She’s originally from Chicago, IL, and is a huge Chicago Bears fan. Proud of her Lebanese heritage, Sarah loves the comfort of middle eastern foods and coffee, coffee, coffee. In her spare time these days, she loves to read, watch The Bachelor and Morning Joe, and HouseParty with her friends and family.
A breast cancer diagnosis can bring a wide range of emotions, including shock, fear, sadness, and anger, the support of family, friends, and others can be helpful as you go through diagnosis, treatment and beyond, but many cancer patients and survivors will tell you that despite that support cancer can be a lonely journey. However, it is important to know that you are not alone here to share her story. And what she has learned is Sarah Sanders. Sarah, welcome to the show.
Thank you so much for having me. It’s an honor.
So good to talk to you. I will, I will preface this by saying I did see your interview with Katie Couric on Instagram. And that’s pretty amazing. So your story is really compelling and I’m very excited to hear more about it. So let’s, let’s start there. Tell us a little bit about yourself and about your cancer journey.
Sure. I’m freshly 35. I’m originally from the Chicago area. I’m a big Bears fan and I moved here to New York about four years ago, actually for my current job. And you know, it’s been interesting because the last four years I would tell anybody I’ve been the happiest of my life. I’ve always wanted to live in New York. I’ve always wanted to experience what this city had to offer. And I got this amazing opportunity to do it, and I’m still here. And then I think for all of us, 2020 hit, and it was definitely that transitional if you will experience in the beginning and then come February, early February. So it was like right on the cost of COVID… I had my annual exam with my OBGYN. And during that, she found a mass on my right breast and immediately wanted to schedule an ultrasound.
So fast forward a couple of weeks later, which is when I was able to get it scheduled. And it came back with some concerns when the radiologist read it. And that led to a mammogram same day. I believe they took about 13 images. So it was pretty extensive. And then after that, she sat me down. She pulled me into the room where we looked at these images together and then came, I would say the most traumatic, I think, experience of my life, which was the words of there’s a 95% chance that what she was seeing was malignant. And it was all over my breast. It wasn’t just one area. It was a multitude upwards of seven to nine different areas, calcifications, lymph nodes being impacted. So it was this really scary moment of what is happening. And if you kind of rewind a year ago, I actually had to get a biopsy on my same breast, different mass, totally benign later, I have potential at this point, cancer all over my right breast.
So we move forward with a biopsy of three different areas. And all three came back positive for cancer. And that was essentially eight o’clock, which is my current and most aggressive mass. We, we did another area which was the farthest away and then the lymph nodes. And when you hear those words, it’s cancer, your whole life stops. It just, everything changes, every emotion, every physical feeling you’ve ever had. Every mental thought that’s ever been processed in your head. You just go blank. And it was this very scary, but also when I found out an interesting and almost humbling moment where I went into this fighter mode, I couldn’t cry. I couldn’t, I was just like, let’s go, we’re going to beat this and you have mixed emotions, but at the same time, you’re like, I will not allow cancer to take me given that all of those mental feelings and all of what the mind does over the course of time, then falls into play.
And you have these moments of, Oh my God, am I going to die? Oh my God, it’s everywhere in my body. Oh my God, what’s happening. You have an initial diagnosis. And then you’re waiting for scans. You’re waiting for doctors to tell you more. And it’s the worst place you could possibly be is that purgatory and your mind starts to play tricks. And that was the process, you know, until I started to get into that mode of next is your scans. Next is your consultations. Next is figuring out the institution you want to go to next, next, next, next. So it’s all a process then came home. My goodness. You know, I, I was at my first consultation with an oncologist and
I asked her flat out, should I be as concerned as what I’m seeing and hearing on the news, because it was just that cost. And I believe it was actually new Rochelle that had that bubble up of cases. And that’s when people started to really listen. And it was that day that I actually had my consultation and she was like, it is very serious. And explain to me what it was. And then I went home and the next day, all hell broke loose, especially in New York city, which is where I live. That fear of becomes compounded so heavily with that fear of COVID. And it starts to just take over, you have this kind of double whammy coming at you where you can’t escape, fear and fear. COVID fear. If cancer is not going to take me is a global pandemic and back and forth and back and forth. You go in your head, you watch the news to become informed, which I’m a Jew. I was a journalism major. So I love watching the news, but you have to stop, right? You have to get that back. So overwhelmed with fear. You have to do everything you can to be as smart and diligent as you possibly can as an immunocompromised individual. But then at the same time, not allow yourself to become so overwhelmed with fear between your diagnosis and what’s happening in the world to where it starts to paralyze you.
Mm. I don’t know that I can imagine that level of stress and you, and you appear to be handling it pretty gracefully. At least during this call so far. So thank you for sharing that,
You know, I have good days and bad, you know, people always tell you you’ve got to stay positive. It’s, it’s a huge part of this journey. And I don’t disagree. It is such an important piece of a cancer patient’s journey. And I always call it journey. It’s not a battle to me, but at the same time, you have to allow yourself to feel it is also an important part of the journey is to experience every emotion that comes with having cancer, let alone cancer in the environment we’re in. Because if you didn’t feel you’re gonna only hurt yourself more, you can’t be positive all the time. You’re human.
Yeah. Wow. I mean, that’s really good advice because you do have to accept and acknowledge your emotions and deal with them. Right. now I, I know one of the things that a lot of people struggle with in cancer is that feeling of loneliness and experiencing loneliness through the journey. And I know that obviously COVID-19, there’s a lot of loneliness. Can you just expand on, on your experience with that dealing with both of these at the same time,
You know, what’s so fascinating is I’ve had the most loving, helpful, inspirational group of people in my life, from my family, to my friends, to my colleagues, to strangers that have come in and walked into my life as a result of, of course the interview with Katie, but also people that just started following me on Instagram. Cause I’ve been sharing my story, regardless of all of this, which I will tell you is nonstop support. When you are a cancer patient, you have nonstop support. At least I’m grateful I have, and I pray that for everybody, but at the same time, it is the loneliest journey you will ever be on because regardless I think of that support and love, they’re not on that physical journey with you, right? They are trying to help you through it as best as they can, but you are the only one truly experiencing it, living it, feeling it every day. And I think for people that haven’t gone through a cancer diagnosis and journey, it’s a bit harder, I think, to connect with the ones that are trying to help you through as much as it is to connect with other cancer patients, survivors who are experiencing it with you, whether it be breast cancer like I’ve been diagnosed with, or other types of cancer. And I think that actually helps reduce that loneliness because they get it.
Yep. Yeah. They can fully empathize with you, whereas someone that hasn’t experienced it can imagine it. So, so on that, on that line of thinking have there been specific things or people that have helped you cope and feel less alone over the last few months?
Absolutely. Like I said, my family, especially my mom has been here from the start and she is my rock. She is, she keeps me steady as best as you know, she can as a mom, but, you know, regardless I think of all of that strength and perseverance that she has for herself and on my behalf, it’s still hard for her, but, but she is definitely my number one. I will tell you the outpouring of support since I actually did have that interview with Katie has been incredible predominantly, you know, from, from people who not only have family members, of course, that have experienced it and they’ve been caregivers, but from people going through the same journey at the same time during COVID, which is the scariest place you could possibly be as an immunocompromised patient. And that has helped so much, not only me, but I, I pray and I believe this is the case from, from what I’ve heard and from what people have communicated to me, that my story is also helping them because it’s giving people awareness of what others are going through, but at the same time, even if you’re not a cancer patient, it’s helping people understand what cancer patients are also experiencing during this time, which I hope it continually makes an impact.
And I think what’s interesting is I’ve never been one to share anything relative to health publicly. It’s just not who I was. I kept that very personal, but when I was diagnosed, I started to go on Instagram and I just typed in breast cancer. Cancer looked at the hashtags, looked at people’s profiles and developed relationships and friendships with people who are going through my exact same diagnosis who are going through not only my same diagnosis, but also my same genetic mutation. I was, I was confirmed a BRACA one. So it was something where, when I’m finding the same exact people who are doing this and developing these relationships, I have one even in, in Ireland who I communicate with almost daily, another in Texas, I have people reach out to me from Morocco, you name it. I thought, you know, if they can help me as I’m starting this journey, I pray to God. My story can help others as well. And I encourage any cancer patient who is willing and would want to share their journey to do so because you’re seeing you can save a life just by mentally helping people get through it. And mentally part of, if not one of the largest parts of the journey.
Wow. Well, I mean, that’s, that’s really some great advice that you can, you can provide other people with strength as you’re also enduring and being provided with strength. So that’s, that’s one piece of advice, which is related to my next question. Do you have any other advice for listeners that might find themselves in a similar situation as you
Don’t be afraid to feel really don’t, you’re going to be compounded with messages that are scary. You’re going to be compounded with messages that are uplifting. You’re going to have an immense outpouring of people who are going to ask you questions. And the interesting part about the whole process is it can be very overwhelming, but overwhelming as a spectrum, right? Overwhelming in the sense of this is phenomenal. And I need every ounce of what’s coming at me as a cancer patient. And I’m speaking to me as in the greater needs of cancer patients. And then on the other side of the spectrum, you’re going to have people who want to understand a little bit more, so are constantly asking questions, which can be that other spectrum of like, Oh my God, please please say, have an open mind, stay true to who you are. You’re still you.
You will always still be you. You’re not just a cancer patient. You will always be who you were, who you are, encourage people to help you on your journey in the way that’s going to be best for you. Stay as positive as you can cry. When you need to hug someone you love when you can safely if they’ve been tested in social distancing and quarantined, you name it. If you can, it helps. And know that every day is going to be worth the fight and you need to take everything day by day and live for the day and then worry about tomorrow later.
Wow. Sarah, that is some really, really amazing, amazing advice. I really appreciate your passion. I really appreciate your wisdom. Thank you just for sharing your life with us for a few minutes. And thank you for joining me on the show.
I can’t thank you enough. I’m completely honored to have had this opportunity to speak with you. So I am, I’m very grateful.
Intro and outro music is City Sunshine by Kevin MacLeod.