Jessica Karabian is an LBBC Young Advocate. A version of this post appeared in her blog, Eyes up here, this is beyond my breast. Learn about our Fall 2015 Young Advocate Program.
My name is Jessica Karabian, and I have Stage IV metastatic breast cancer. It sounds like an introduction to an AA meeting to me, but to others (to the healthy ones) it sounds like a warrior call. For two years, I’ve lived in a world where there were two groups of people: People with cancer and people without cancer.
I have a story. It’s long–full of twist and turns. My story has a baby and a separated marriage, good relationships and bad relationships, endless doctors appointments and two separate diagnoses. It is complicated, but so is the story of anyone who has been diagnosed with cancer. Let’s be honest: If you have heard the words “You have cancer,” from that point on, life no longer goes smoothly. So once I heard that life changing sentence, the tug-o-war in my mind began. Every day, every hour, every minute it tugged in my mind. Am I living or am I dying? At 29 years young, I became fixated on if I was living with cancer or dying from cancer. Not the sentence I thought would be replaying in my mind like a scratched record player.
So, fast forward to my mother asking me if I wanted to attend a Living Beyond Breast Cancer (LBBC) conference. I decided maybe I should. Maybe opening myself up to support, knowledge, and education wouldn’t be the worst idea in the world. It definitely beat the alternative to an all-day pajama commitment I had subconsciously made with myself. After my third conference, I received an email from LBBC letting women under the age of 45 know that they were training for young advocates in Philadelphia for a three-day training weekend. I held no reservation and filled out the application. In fact, I put a lot of hope into it. Due to the conferences I had attended, I started to feel the need to participate in spreading knowledge. KNOWLEDGE vs. AWARENESS… they are two very different concepts. Now all this time the tug-o-war continued. Even through the participation and education, I continued with “Am I dying or am I living with cancer?” After several weeks of waiting and one phone interview later, I received my acceptance email. I was beyond thrilled to say the very least. I knew when I received this acceptance it was something very important to my healing. I wasn’t sure how it would play out exactly, but I knew it would be therapeutic and healing for me.
The day I was to leave, I found out an Internet support friend (who was an LBBC Young Advocate) named Sarah Merchant died that morning from metastatic breast cancer. Tug-o-war, please commence. I was so saddened by her passing that I was tempted not to go. I packed slowly–taking frequent breaks to lock myself in the bathroom to shed tears. I knew if I bailed on this opportunity I would regret it later. And so on the drive down, I spoke to Sarah and asked her to give me some sign I was doing the right thing and that this would indeed be purposeful and healing. When I arrived, I checked into my private room. I have to admit, I enjoyed the solitude and silence. I freshened up for dinner and the scheduled meet-and-greet and headed down to the lobby. I sat on the couch making small talk with the other brave women who were selected when I met a very stylish women who wore a fabulous dress. She introduced herself as Sara and she, too, was diagnosed with stage IV breast cancer. We hit it off from our first conversation! She, like me, was combining Western and eastern medicine to heal her body. We talked all through dinner. She was bold, smart, creative, and sensitive. I knew instantly that Sara was my sign from Sarah Merchant. She connected us through this crazy universe, and by doing that, she was letting me know she was okay and where she was supposed to be and I was exactly where I needed to be in life.
I learned so much during that intense weekend. My brain was spilling over with knowledge. But most of all, I made the most intense bonds with some of the most courageous and awe-inspiring women. And slowly throughout the weekend, the tug-o-war ended. That weekend taught me many things, but the most important thing it taught me was that I found where I needed to be in this world. I am not living or dying from cancer, I am existing with cancer. I am thriving with cancer. And like everyone else who is born, I am going to eventually die, but until then, my place in this world is to be involved with the education of and support for any young woman who has heard that crashing sentence: “You have breast cancer.”
So, the tug of war in my mind ended, and a gift was given to me. A gift of placement in this crazy beautiful world. The greatest gift I ever received.