Lyncoln, breast cancer survivor and former Ulman House resident, shares her story about the impact of cancer on her life.
Lyncoln, at the end of a long conversation about the hardships of cancer laments, “I love inspirational stories, but I am suffering.”
Cancer has taken a lot from Lyncoln.
A proud mail carrier since the age of 19, Lyncoln had to give up her job upon her diagnosis of triple negative breast cancer at 31. Her mastectomy and extensive surgery to remove affected lymph nodes caused a loss of strength in her upper arms, so the Post Office’s requirement to lift 70 pounds is now well beyond Lyncoln’s capability.
Chemotherapy and its after effects stole this survivor’s ability to concentrate and communicate how she once could. Her memory is not close to what it used to be either. Finding any job right now that works for her seems like an impossibility, and feelings of uselessness often plague Lyncoln.
Her body image and mental health have taken big hits as well. Cancer robbed Lyncoln of the old life she knew and loved, and of her vision of how it would look in the years to come. She often feels untethered, depressed, unable to cope.
As Lyncoln shares her experiences, and these feelings that are beyond difficult to verbalize – much less live with – she exudes a calm, patient composure. It’s clear she’s used the time that cancer has freed up in her life for contemplation and growth, odd companions to her feelings of stagnation and depression. That’s what cancer does – it confuses, complicates, contradicts, causes questions we could never anticipate.
Yet amidst these questions, opportunities arise.
Relationships have deepened for Lyncoln. Her beloved dad has been by her side at Ulman House and Johns Hopkins Hospital throughout her months of treatment, and her devoted husband and mother have made the 7-hour drive from Southwest Virginia countless times to visit on the weekends. Always a close family, they’ve allowed the challenges cancer has thrown at them to draw them even closer. Lyncoln is more appreciative than ever of her family, and now stops and thinks about every word she says to them instead of letting irritability (or being “hangry!”) bring out unnecessarily harsh or thoughtless comments.
Her Ulman House family – Will, Lisa, TJ, Michelle, and Lindsay to name just a few – comforted her (and she, them) through empathy, knowing, and acceptance. Though she no longer sees her fellow residents in person, and realizes they may never all gather again, Lyncoln has learned how close strangers can become by sharing what’s common to them and being real with one another.
Because of cancer, Lyncoln has gained the skill of advocating for herself to a greater extent than she may have imagined by this point in her life. A very scary misdiagnosis at a local hospital emboldened Lyncoln to seek guidance and care at Johns Hopkins – a move she’s convinced saved her life. She learned invaluable lessons through her experience pushing for accurate information, and offers her sobering wisdom to other young adults. “You’re not too young. It can happen at any age to anybody. Don’t ignore symptoms. If you feel something is off with you, get checked. If you’re not satisfied with what your doctor tells you, go to someone else. It could be the difference between life and death. It’s easy to write things off when you’re young, but it can be serious. Don’t doubt yourself.”
In Lyncoln’s story, at this moment, the inspiration may be buried a bit deeper than in some cancer stories we read or hear; she often doubts that it’s even there. But what an outsider can see is that the traits Lyncoln displays and inspires in others – rawness, relationships and doing her best within her reality – just may be the most courageous things of all.
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