Becoming Your Own Advocate: One Woman & Inspiring Story

Cecile LaRiviere

Posted on October 12 2016

In celebration of Breast Health month we welcome this guest post from Alana Somerville, a schoolteacher, mom, and author of the book ChemoSabe which chronicles her journey to self-advocacy. Her story inspires us to overcome whatever life throws in our paths.

I am a planner by nature. This may stem from my childhood, where my Mom had a “calendar desk”; it was on this calendar that every single thing we did was written. It was a sort of schedule bible. In September of 2011, on the heels of my 33rd birthday, my plan for the next year was to soak up the fun of being a Mom to my three year old daughter and six month old son until I had to go back to work in February. However, things don’t always go as planned and I’ll never forget the day my plan was foiled when I heard the words “You have cancer”.

I cried. And I cried. More than I have ever cried before. Then something came over me. I knew in my heart that wallowing in self-pity wouldn’t get me anywhere.

How To Support Yourself

I also knew that the one person that cared the most about my health was me. If anyone was going to be in the lead here it had to be me, and suddenly I became my biggest advocate, navigating my way through the health care system with a bit of fire inside of me. Had I not taken this by the reigns, the end result could have been very different.

My cancer was the most aggressive there was, growing rapidly every single day. My first surgeon told me I had to wait six weeks to get my tumor removed because he was going on vacation. Really? I was absolutely NOT OK with this. I would have loved to go on a vacation too…but I couldn’t. I had Cancer!
  1. I began reading and learning everything there was to know about breast cancer.
  2. I started asking everyone that I knew with any kind of medical background what their advice would be.
  3. I called everyone I knew, all of those connections I had made in my life up until that moment, and was able to get a surgery date within a few weeks.
  4. I documented every phone call I made, wrote down the name of the person I was speaking with.
  5. I brought home hard copies of every x-ray, scan, and blood test that I had, and I brought these to every appointment. No one was going to be able to tell me that they didn’t have my files and therefore couldn’t help me.
In short, I turned on my “warrior” mode and I began to do everything in my power to fight this. This made all the difference in the world. Self-advocacy is likely one of the most important parts of this process. Being informed, asking questions, and staying involved was integral, but being diagnosed with Cancer messes with your head a bit; having supportive family and friends was also crucial.

How to Support Others

The first time I saw my Dad after my diagnosis, he cried to me. This was not what I needed. This made it seem much more grim. I also didn’t need friends or family telling me stories about people they knew that had just died from the disease. Unbelievably, this really happened. Many people didn’t know what to do, but here are some recommendations:
  1. Don’t look at me strangely when I lose my hair, I feel strange enough already.
  2. Bring me food. I may not feel like eating, but my family sure does and I probably don’t feel like cooking.
  3. Visit, and talk about things other than Cancer. When you are diagnosed with Cancer, people think you want to talk about it all the time. I didn’t mind, for me it was actually a bit cathartic, but some people are not so open.
  4. Bring me a book to read, but make damn sure it’s not about someone dying. That’s the last thing I want to hear about.
I didn’t plan on getting Cancer, and I sure as hell don’t want to get it again. But I do know, even though I didn’t plan my attack, being my own self advocate along with having an awesome support group made my fight that much easier, and ultimately I think that helped me position myself on the survivors’ side of this disease. If I had to do it again, I wouldn’t do anything differently, and to be honest, I am one of the lucky ones. I am lucky to have survived, but I am also lucky to have been given this notch on my belt. It has given me a different perspective on life, and I wouldn’t change a thing about that. I took the road less travelled by, and although I didn’t plan this path, that has made all the difference.

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