Diagnosed with Breast Cancer: 12 Completely Candid Truths from Women Who Got Through It

From how to deal with “why me” thoughts to handling fertility and egg freezing, these initial reactions show what a breast cancer diagnosis really feels like.

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More than 268,000 cases of invasive breast cancer will be diagnosed in America in 2019, according to the American Cancer Society. And as these women can attest, nothing quite prepares you for hearing those (often very unexpected) words: You have cancer.

Here’s a look at how these women reacted to, coped with, and bounced back to hearing their life-changing diagnosis.

It’s like a ton of bricks coming down

“Bam—you’re told you have breast cancer, and it’s like this ton of bricks comes down and you feel like your body has just completely deceived you.”
—Lisa, diagnosed at 46

Shock: There’s no other word for it

“I remember getting the first phone call that went something like, ‘You need to come in and you need to bring your husband.’ Based on that phone call, you go in there knowing that something is not right. I remember it like I was there yesterday: shock, surreal, disappointment. Shock—there’s no other word for it. Maybe it was my age, but we were shocked.”
—Nicole, diagnosed at 36

What the magazines say isn’t everything

“You read magazines and everyone says eat healthy, don’t drink too much, exercise, breastfeed your kids, don’t smoke. I could check every box in that article and I got breast cancer.”
—Jamie diagnosed at 46

Being healthy doesn’t mean you’re safe

“I was so broadsided because I was so healthy. This wasn’t supposed to happen to me.”
—Christine, diagnosed at 42

Let’s get it out now

“Those words were ringing in my ear when he said: ‘You have breast cancer.’ I said that’s not me. I’m athletic, I eat well, I live well. Why me, why do I have that? I said, ‘Let’s get it out now. Just take it out.’”
—Leslie, diagnosed at 44

Making plans for your life is a joke

“The biggest thing cancer taught me is that making plans for your life is kind of a joke. I had big plans when I was younger and growing up. I had a timeline of when I wanted what done. Cancer changed all of that.”
—Rosanna, diagnosed at 31

I couldn’t let myself think “Why me?”

“I didn’t think ‘Why me?’ was going to get me any answer that would help me actually fight cancer. The thing I kept saying to myself was, ‘I don’t get to choose cancer, but I get to choose how I react to it.’”
—Sally, diagnosed at 40

I have to fight it

“I did at first think, ‘Why me?’ And then I had to readjust my thinking and just think, ‘It is what it is now. I have to fight it.’”
—Alyssa, diagnosed at 23

I’ll never get to breastfeed

“I’ve been a NICU nurse for most of my life, and I’ve encouraged moms to breastfeed. I just eliminated that possibility for myself, and that was really, really difficult. That is something I constantly think about and struggle with. But then I think, ‘I’m going to be alive for my child.’ And that’s what’s important and what matters.”
—Rosanna, diagnosed at 31

No one tells you about the fertility part

“It’s important to say, because I didn’t know. That it could affect fertility.”
—Nicole, diagnosed at 36

You have to think about egg freezing

“I had my eggs frozen. We’re hopeful we won’t have to use those and we’ll be able to have a child naturally, but there’s always that chance that we won’t be able to.”
—Rosanna, diagnosed at 31

You won’t know how you feel about losing a breast

“Losing a breast is very psychologically burdensome, because a breast represents the cycle of life. In my case, the chemotherapy made the choice for me. I couldn’t be a mom. There were a lot of psychological twists to it. But I think if you keep your eye on the ball and you say, ‘You know what? I’m here.’ And you turn it into positivity and try to help others, then my diagnosis wasn’t in vain.”
—Theresa, diagnosed at 42

 A very special thanks to Susan G. Komen Greater New York City.