I have been surrounded by cancer all of my life. One of my earliest memories was in 1967. I was just 6 1/2 years old. My Aunt Natalie had died from breast cancer at the young age of 43. To this day, I can still recall that rainy July day. I remember being confused, scared, and fearful when my mom told me the news.
In those days, the “C’ word was never spoken out loud. It was discussed only by the adults and always behind closed doors. Neither of my parents ever explained how or why my aunt had died. It came out slowly over time.
Throughout my life, many women on my mother’s side of the family were afflicted with cancer. Mom’s family referred to it as, “The Sosne Curse.” There were great aunts, cousins, my mom, my aunt (her sister) and then my youngest sister. Nine women in total diagnosed with breast or ovarian cancer! And two very dear friends of mine were diagnosed with cancer and have subsequently died.
After my sister was diagnosed in 2004, I finally decided to get the BRCA genetic testing. Up until then, I did not want to know. Two of my sisters had tested negative, and my mom’s sister had tested positive for a mutation. A part of me knew that I had it also. Ironically, I tested positive for the mutation, and have never had cancer, but my sister, Norma, was negative and she had breast cancer. It was perplexing to everyone. I immediately had my ovaries removed as a preventative measure and remain extremely pro-active in my health and surveillance.
Caregiving has played a huge part of my adult life. My mom was my first introduction to the role. It was 1994, I was 35 years old with a five-year-old son and one-year-old daughter. I commuted back and forth to where my mother lay dying from metastatic breast cancer. It was about a two-hour drive each way. As my mom’s condition deteriorated, my three sisters and I were thrust into caring for her and emotionally supporting my dad. It was a role that was incredibly unfamiliar, stressful, shocking, and so very painful and heart-wrenching.
As I look back, I can now see how unprepared I was. About nine years ago, my girlfriend Kathlyne was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Since I was laid off from my job, I took on the roll of caregiver to her until she passed away. It was in many ways, an enriching experience for the both of us.
And just recently my other dear friend, Juana, had asked me to be her primary caregiver after her cancer diagnosis. Once again, I assumed the caregiver role. The experience was still incredibly painful; however, I was much wiser. The knowledge I had gained from my other roles helped me, as well as my girlfriend, through the emotional twists and turns and ups and downs. Juana passed away last March.
This cancer journey is not the road I would have chosen, but I embrace it fully. I have learned so much about myself, in so many ways. I have had the opportunity to create deep and meaningful relationships with my family and friends, as well as develop the skills to help and understand others who are in the same voyage.
My personal journey has also been filled with other major life-changing events as well. The challenges I faced in my adult life inspired me, and have culminated with a gift from my husband, Isaac. He provided me with the opportunity to create my company, GoodGrief Coaching.
Every day, I live my dream and passion to help people and caregivers, giving them the tools and support they need through the heartache and grief, so they can thrive in the face of change and adversity when faced with a cancer diagnosis.
Sharon Roth-Lichtenfeld 2011