I thought getting cancer was the hard part. Then after he came

I remember being surprised when I first saw him. It was bright white and small like a piece of tic-tac, but it was round, not oval. My oncologist assured me I would thank her in a few months.

As a woman who’s had painful periods since the first period she got, she said, “This medicine will take all of that away.”

On the first day, I put the pill in my mouth and swallowed it with a sip of water. Tamoxifen wasn’t just a pill that could help make your period less painful. More importantly, starting to take it marked the conclusion of my experience with breast cancer.

After I was diagnosed in April 2020, I underwent surgery and radiation during the worst of COVID-19, and I was grateful to be “in recovery”.

The hard part is over, but, as in 70 to 80 percent of breast cancer cases, mine was hormone receptor positive, which basically means that cancer cells feed on a specific hormone.

So, for me, that meant a five-year course of the estrogen-blocking tamoxifen as a long-term treatment to prevent recurrence of the disease.

Darcy Joering (pictured) was diagnosed with cancer in April 2020.Darcy Goering

Not long after I took that first pill, a new sensation began to take hold in my body—it felt like it was burning.

As a 47-year-old, perimenopausal woman, I’d had hot flashes before, but these were so intense unlike anything I’d experienced before, and worse, they weren’t a flash at all. And this seems to have no end. However, I thought, maybe my body needs time to adjust?

Then I started noticing something else: I was crying all the time.

It was as if I suddenly had a completely different emotional toolkit than I’d had my entire adult life. Things that used to be small stressors become triggers for uncontrollable thoughts of uncertainty and rumination. Bigger fears felt insurmountable. Was this normal?

Eight months after finishing treatment and taking my first dose of tamoxifen, I was sure of four things. First, the hot flashes got better or I was so used to them that I hardly noticed them. Second, my doctor was right about my period; The cramps were better. Third, I was not the same person emotionally.

And fourth, because of that, I was having a mental breakdown.

I kept thinking back to a few months ago. At every doctor’s office, I was handed a list of instructions and rules to follow, and told what to expect. The first endless batch of cheerleading gifts I received right after my diagnosis was a set of six socks with words like “Brave,” “Warrior,” and “Brave” written on my toes.

Sitting in the examination halls, I would stare at my feet, read those words, and do my best to embody what they were saying. Other days, I’d tell myself not to think and repeat the mantra, “Just keep swimming, keep swimming, just keep swimming” over and over. If I can get to the other side, it will all be over, and I can go back to my life.

During the 21 days of radiation therapy, I made friends with the technicians. In between telling stories about our children, someone would always ask, “How are you today?” And I knew I could tell him the truth.

One of those days I answered: “The radiation burn is killing me and I’m exhausted.”

“You’re almost there. You can do it,” he assured me.

Then it was over, and I was on my own. There are no scripts to follow, no socks to follow, and no follow up conversations with the people involved with me. All of these things helped me get through the stages of breast cancer, but what I didn’t expect was what came next.

Little did I know that even if I came out okay, I might not be okay. What was my problem? Shouldn’t I be glad it’s over? Should I not be grateful that, unlike many others, I was fortunate enough to be on the other side?

Friends might ask, “But you’re fine now, aren’t you?”

I’ll tell them what I think they want to hear: “Yeah, my scans are clear.”

What I didn’t tell them was that in the weeks leading up to my scans, I was so anxious I could barely deal with everyday life. Or that this little white pill I had to take to keep the cancer from coming back had turned me into someone I barely knew and exacerbated every mental weakness I had.

Or that my PTSD and the fear of it recurring was so bad, that I could barely sleep most nights. Or that since I had cancer, every doctor I went to had done extra tests or check-ups because I was now in a different category than someone who didn’t have that word in their medical records.

They’d say, “You’d better check your date.” What I wanted to ask was, how do you now become a person with history? On paper, that didn’t make any sense. For decades, I had never gone to the doctor for anything more than a sinus infection. Genetic testing showed that I had nothing to do with cancer.

I ran 20 miles a week. You have eaten a healthy diet. Now, I had my body back again, but the question that kept recurring in my thoughts was, would I be mentally back as I was?

I spent nearly a year stuck in this limbo until one day, I found myself sitting at another doctor’s table begging for help. “You don’t have to do it alone,” she said. A week later, I started treatment.

Two years have passed since then. I’ve had ups and downs. I have learned that many breast cancer patients struggle with the side effects of medications and the emotional consequences of having cancer.

Sometimes now, when I get dressed, I peek at my lumpectomy scar in the mirror, so dim eyes that don’t know it might not notice it. I think of the day after surgery when the bandages were removed. and when it was slowly taken off, I was so afraid to see what was under it, that I had to force myself to look.

There, on the outside of my left breast was a wrinkled strip, red against the off-white of my skin. Her vision made it real and tangible. But as the months went by, as I watched it fade, I knew my body was healing.

My emotional wounds may have been invisible, but they were also there and I needed to acknowledge them in order to move on. And slowly, through endless boxes of tissues and a therapist who once a week allowed me to tell her how I really am.

These days, more often than not, I find a new mantra running through my mind: “I’m alive, I’m alive, I’m alive.”

Darcy Goering Freelance writer and editor. She is the host of the online writing community Zibby Mag and a writing coach. She specializes in narration and personal memoirs. Her work has been featured in Newsweek, HuffPost, Business Insider, Scary Mommy, and more.

She was a contributing author to the anthology, Corona City: Voices from the Epicenter, where she shared her experience of being diagnosed with breast cancer in the first few weeks of the pandemic. Darcy leads writing workshops and has served as a keynote speaker at conferences across the United States.

All opinions expressed in this article are the author’s own.

Do you have a unique experience or personal story that you want to share? Email the My Turn team at

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