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Breast cancer survivor Marja: “I gave my friends instructions on how to handle me”

“When I got sick, I didn't want my teenage daughter to worry any more than necessary. However, I could not run my everyday life alone, so I asked and received help from my friends.”

Marja Airola nauramassa

The best thing right now is normal everyday life. It includes being able to go to work and have time for my friends. Loved ones are close by.

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in January 2012. The doctor called and told me about my illness. The doctor thought I knew about the cancer because my medical history mentioned a star-like formation in my breast. However, I had not understood the seriousness of the matter, and the announcement was a complete shock to me.

Treatment was initiated quickly, turning my daily life upside down all at once. In February, a part of my breast was resected, but it turned out that it was not enough. A check-up appointment in April revealed that the cancer had spread throughout the breast.

I was not allowed to lift anything heavier than a milk carton, so going about my tasks at home was difficult. Nevertheless, I tried to run my daily life as normal as possible, so that my teenage daughter wouldn't worry so much. My perseverance was not successful, however, and I had to ask for help. I told about my illness at work, because I did not want rumors about my condition to start going around. I also gave my colleagues instructions. I would not need any special treatment, but they were allowed to ask how I was doing.

Although I knew I was ill and felt it too, I didn't want the illness to show in my everyday life. Loved ones played an important role during my illness and recovery. My friends placed a schedule on the fridge door. I got to call whoever had their name marked down for the day in question. Friends picked me up from home for a walk or came to see me. My colleagues came to get me for various events, and my brother helped me with our daily life by bringing us food he had prepared.

Supporting a sick person is tough on the friends too, and some of my friendships ended. It is not easy to hear about a severe illness. 

When I received a clean bill of health in spring 2018, a concrete change was reflected in the fact that the side effects of the medication started to wear off. Being cured was a great relief to me. 

I have been thinking about the treatment I received, and it was good. But when I first got my diagnosis over the phone, I was left very alone with my feelings. I wouldn't want anyone else to have to go through the same thing. When you receive news about a diagnosis of a severe illness face-to-face, it is easier to go through the emotions it evokes and it is possible to ask questions.

Now that I'm healthy, I want to have hobbies and enjoy my everyday life. In addition to my role as an expert by experience, I work as a peer support person for those with breast cancer. The journey of someone with cancer is tough, but you can get through it. I want to set an example that it is possible to recover from a serious and difficult illness.