October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Women in the United States have a 13% chance of developing breast cancer in her lifetime, so it touches everyone in some way. For this month’s guest blog post, we are happy to share the voice of a survivor, Renée Goneau Maas.

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In 2017, I was working at a small law firm in downtown Saint Paul when I noticed a bump. It wasn’t really on my breast, but rather near it, so I made the appointment to go in for my first mammogram. I was 42 years old, and, yes, I know we’re supposed to go in sooner to get a baseline, but here we are. The doctor performed an ultrasound, determined the lump was benign, and eventually it just went away.

By 2018, I was now getting annual exams. At a routine appointment, I was told to schedule an ultrasound because of my dense breast tissue. By this time, I was a pro, so I booked an ultrasound at Regions Hospital. At the appointment, I checked in, someone escorted me to the little room where I took off my top and put on their white robe, and then I went out to wait. No big deal, right? Before long a new person brought me to a small exam room where the technician delicately described the upcoming ultrasound. My medical history is lengthy, so this was all routine for me.

After the ultrasound was performed, the technician said he’d like to invite a colleague into the room to read the results. I can recall thinking, why not? The more the merrier! The new doctor said he would like to do a biopsy and asked if I wanted to do it now or schedule it for different date. I was already there, on the table ready for action so to speak, so I said, “Let’s do it.” It wasn’t until I was pulling out of the parking garage that the seriousness of the day’s events dawned on me. Suddenly my hands were trembling. What HAD just happened to me? A biopsy? That was a first for me. I pulled over immediately and sent a text to my husband: “FYI, they just biopsied my breast.” And back to work I went.

Did you know they call you with positive cancer test results? Did you know they sometimes wait until the end of the day to call you with positive cancer results? Isn’t that bananas?  I took the call at work in a small conference room and got the news. I took a moment to compose myself, and then I went back to my desk to work for the last 45 minutes of the workday. Don’t ask me how those 45 minutes went because I remember nothing. I barely remember a thing that happened for the next month and half.

Why am I telling you my story? Because by listening you’re already helping a person facing illness and or death. Listening and being present are the best things you can do for someone going through this process.

No one should go through this alone, and in sharing my story, I’m letting you know you’re not alone. I also have some tips and advice if you or a loved one is on a similar journey.

Keep someone by your side for all the big appointments and decisions.

Having my darling husband by my side through it all made the biggest difference.  A second set of ears at appointments is essential. Unless you’re recording your visits or have superhuman memory, you need someone there to absorb the information with you. Your person doesn’t have to be a spouse or even live in your household. They just need to be able to help navigate the tremendous amount of information you’re going to be given. If you don’t have someone to go to appointments with you, ask the provider for a patient advocate or seek a mentor at a non-profit organization like The Firefly Sisterhood, an organization that fosters one-to-one connections between women who are impacted by a breast cancer diagnosis and treatment.

Do what the doctors tell you, but ask two to be sure.

Remember, even though you may be in fight or flight mode because of how new and scary this all is, it’s not new or scary to the providers. You are not the first person to go through this, and your care team knows how to help. Let them.

However, you should also get a second opinion. For something this life-changing, this huge, get confirmation from another provider. Learn about all your options. We live in an amazing time with humans who can do amazing things, so when it comes time to dig deep, get another doctor to confirm the results. Some people may even suggest getting a third opinion. Do that if it works for you. But don’t do it alone and don’t make rash decisions.

Talk with those who have already walked the walk.

Right after I was diagnosed, my husband found me a support group to attend in Saint Paul. We’re big on talk therapy, but it hadn’t even occurred to me to find a support group that quickly. There are support groups for spouses, too, but this one was only for the person with the diagnosis. He drove me there and waited while I sat in a circle with a bunch of women I had never met. They all had grey hair. I didn’t look like them, but I was one of them. Sitting with these women, who had been where I was, who had been treated and survived, was a deeply impactful experience.  I know not everyone gets out alive; I say it all the time. Nonetheless, I needed to see these women, to sit with these women, more than I could have ever known. Their voices were an incredible balm to my raw terror.

Immerse yourself in the things and people that are healing to your soul.

When it came time to treat, I won the lottery as far as breast cancer is concerned; I didn’t need chemo or radiation! They couldn’t just do a lumpectomy (partial removal), so they had to take the whole right breast, but really, who needs two boobs? Surgery went as well as an amputation can go, and I came to with my friend there holding a beautiful orchid. The doctor remarked how quickly I recovered from the anesthesia.

They made me stay the night, and you better believe I was anxiously awaiting my husband’s arrival the next morning.  He came well equipped: a heart-shaped pillow for my arm to rest on (pro tip: get one with a pocket for ice packs!); a special cushion for the seat belt strap so it wouldn’t hurt my surgery site; and the new-to-us JS Ondara (now known simply as Ondara) album to play for me on the drive home. I especially appreciated the new CD, since music is our love language.

Once again, you are not alone.

I know a breast cancer diagnosis for you or a loved one is terrifying. Writing about my story has been healing for me, and I hope hearing it will be helpful for others.

Renée Goneau Maas is a medical malpractice paralegal who works at SiebenCarey. Her passion for helping people is both personal and professional; in the last 26 years Renée has been involved with a variety of non-profits as an employee and volunteer. Renée enjoys being outside all year round with her husband, Jeff, and their dog, Jule. Renée can be reached at https://www.linkedin.com/in/reneegoneau/ or via email at renee.maas@knowyourrights.com.

The material contained herein is for informational purposes only, and is not intended to create or constitute an attorney-client relationship between Schromen Law, LLC and the reader.  The views expressed in this article are not a statement of support or endorsement by Schromen Law, LLC.  The information contained herein is not offered as legal or medical advice and should not be construed as legal or medical advice.

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