Writer and stylist Meredith Gray bared her soul as she courageously confronted breast cancer for the documentary Naked. Here, she shares her field notes from her battle to live.
1. Don’t put off your mammogram.
Early detection saves lives. It saved mine—twice. Both of my breast cancer occurrences (at age 46 and again at 49) were detected thanks to mammography. In each diagnosis, the cancer cells would not have been detected by self-examination.
2. Be proactive after diagnosis.
If, for any reason, you feel uncertain about a medical specialist or a proposed method of treatment, don’t hesitate to get a second or even a third opinion. I met with four reconstructive surgeons before selecting the one I felt best understood my needs and preferences.
3. Take your insurance to task.
Know exactly what your health plan covers, where you can be treated and by whom. Some health plans only allow treatment through an in-network provider, which can limit choices. When I was unable to find a reconstructive surgeon in-network, I appealed and was permitted to select an out-of-network specialist without penalties.
4. Don’t keep it a secret.
I still bear the emotional scars of not knowing the facts behind my own mother’s cancer diagnosis. That’s why I urge people to share a cancer diagnosis with family and close friends. Immediate family members feel left out when they are kept in the dark—and you need their support.
5. Make your own plan for treatment.
There are some things you can do in advance of treatment that will lighten the load later on. For instance, before my mastectomy surgery, I made a to-do list of what needed to get accomplished in the next few weeks. When I was overwhelmed by medical appointments, business and personal commitments, I would refer back to my list.
6. Nurture your body and soul.
Your body will take enough abuse from the harsh side effects of chemotherapy treatments so you need to find ways to create a gentle counterbalance. It can be through meditation, spa treatments or just shared laughter among friends. I had a standing appointment for an Ayurvedic massage the day after each infusion.
7. Express yourself.
While some women choose knitting, drawing or photography during treatment, my creative outlet was writing. I wrote a blog of my experiences and shared it on a Facebook page. That page grew from immediate friends to 3,727 people around the world whom I think of as cancer “cheerleaders.” Their supportive posts provided comfort and encouragement when I felt my worst.
8. Accept the kindness of others.
Often, people asked what they could do for me during my chemo treatments. Because of my independent nature, I didn’t want to impose. Learning to accept outreach graciously allows others to feel useful and lightens some of the day-to-day chores that seem overwhelming while in treatment.
9. Get professional help.
I compiled a list of local and national resources where all information, support and outreach is offered free of cost.
6600 Abercorn St., Suite 206
Provides advocacy, education and support, including the following free-of-charge programs and services:
Works to make a difference for the more than 6,000 women in Georgia who are diagnosed with breast cancer each year.
Compiles the Community Resource Guide for Breast Cancer Survivors.
Offers free Cancer Survivorship Lecture Series and an array of support services.
Provides support services to breast cancer patients and their families.
Offers support, education and one of the best free resource guide books, A Helping Hand -The Resource Guide for People with Cancer.
Empowers and educates people with cancer to thrive in their workplace by providing expert advice, interactive tools, educational events and free publications.
Cleaning for A Reason (C4R)
Offers free professional housecleaning and maid services to women who are in treatment for any type of cancer in 50 states as well as Canada.
Cancer Updates, Research and Education publishes the largest consumer magazine in the United States focused entirely on cancer and directed cancer patients, survivors and caregivers.
Publishes resources and educational materials.
Nationwide network for cancer patients.
Ensures that “all people impacted by cancer are empowered by knowledge, strengthened by action, and sustained by community.” Publishes Frankly Speaking About Cancer.