No one is ever ready to hear the words…”the biopsy indicates that you have breast cancer.”

No one is ever ready to hear the words…”the biopsy indicates that you have breast cancer.”

Sara Zakheim

No one is ever ready to hear the words…“the biopsy indicates that you have breast cancer.” And in my case, I was especially not ready. I am the typical harried woman who is trying to balance motherhood and a career, all the while trying to jam 26 hours a day of activities into my 14 waking hours. The day I was diagnosed was a run of the mill Thursday in December, minus the small detour to have a breast ultrasound that had been scheduled 6 months prior. I had wedged the appointment in between a full schedule of errands as I was planning to be out in an hour. Unfortunately, the ultrasound ended up being anything but routine.

The radiologist announced her presence with a wan smile and a professional game face. Her words were clear, direct and left no room for interpretation. Cancer had somehow invaded my breast. I don’t remember much immediately after that except that those simple words were still hard to comprehend and that I couldn’t believe that they were directed at me. When I think back to that day, I realize that I didn’t hesitate before reaching out to the available resources. Surprisingly, my first calls were not to my family and friends; I just wasn’t ready to engage in conversations that would yield questions to which I didn’t have the answers. Instead, while sitting on the floor of my bedroom closet, I decided to call Sharsheret.

Why Sharsheret? For starters, I knew that there would be a trained social worker on the other side of the phone who was waiting for my call, would be calm in the face of chaos, could support me in dealing with the shock of my diagnosis, would help me spring into action, and who was experienced enough to help me navigate and plan for the complicated decisions that lay ahead. And most importantly, I knew I would find someone to help me get my footing and that they would be with me every step of the way.

As a result of that initial call and a follow up call, I went to bed that first night with a “to do” list for the next morning…pick a hospital, find a surgeon, schedule tests, begin formulating a plan for how to tell family and loved ones. Best of all, Sharsheret empowered me to gain control of the road ahead. Sharsheret’s support continued to be invaluable. In the following weeks, as I met with potential surgeons and learned about different treatment options, it was the Sharsheret social worker who was my sounding board and provided guidance and advice which helped me process and dissect all the information that I had been given. The social worker equipped me with the questions that I needed answered and helped me extract key information from my doctors that helped me prepare for the surgery, treatment and its aftermath.

It was on one of those phone calls with the Sharsheret social worker that I expressed my concerns about hair loss and was first advised to ask my doctors about the options available for cold capping and hair preservation. She understood the huge emotional toll that hair loss can have on cancer patients and encouraged me to explore the opportunity to avoid it.

My Sharsheret social worker had heard from her extensive network that the cold cap had recently been FDA approved and was being launched in a few New York hospitals. After making some calls it became clear that I would have the good fortune of being a pilot candidate for a cold cap, and shortly thereafter, I was briefed by the oncology team about how I would be utilizing the cap, how it worked and the chances for success. Being able to start my first round of chemo without the stress of hair loss was a huge relief. Cancer robbed me of the feeling that I could control what was happening to my body, but at least when it came to my hair and self esteem, pursuing hair loss prevention mitigated the long-term scars I have as a cancer survivor.

I am so grateful to Sharsheret and their team of social workers for empowering me to live my best life along my cancer journey. The guidance and courage they provided me allowed me to be a better mom for my children, wife to my husband, and gave me the strength to bounce back to my regular routine after the chemo.