Meet the amazing woman behind "Breast Cancer Survivor Secrets," an e-guide that shares the "survivor secrets" of 20 women who have survived cancer, mainly breast cancer. Gai Comans survived a very aggressive breast cancer, only to learn that survival was not the light on the other side she had hoped for. Through many attempted avenues, Gai has found her way to a healthier and happier place. Not surprisingly, part of that healing has come through reaching out to and helping others going through similar experiences. Following is a short interview with Gai. Learn more about her and her e-guide at http://gaicomans.com/
What is your breast cancer history/story?
My story began way back in 2000. It was an amazing year, almost magical, actually.
I had a fabulous role as a senior executive in corporate and I felt really lucky, because every day I worked with my friends. I felt like a princess as I planned our wedding. I was 38, we had been together for nine years and I wanted everything to be perfect for us. It was fall and the leaves had dropped the day before the wedding and they blanketed the green grass perfectly. The Sydney Olympics followed soon after and the party continued. The city came alive as we welcomed new friends from around the world to join us and we celebrated together.
Then came the news which brought the party to a screaming halt. I heard the words I never wanted to hear, “Gai, we have found evidence of cancer, we will need to do a partial mastectomy on Thursday”. Suddenly, the world went silent and I am not sure what else he said. I was numb. The news got worse quickly and I learned a new language. The tumour tested as a grade three. It was very aggressive with high nodal involvement (18 of 21 positive) and my survival chances were put at ten percent.
The treatment regime was just as aggressive, with 10 months of chemotherapy, radiation and more chemotherapy. I was waiting for the treatment to finish and normality to return. That took way longer than I expected and I soon discovered the emotional healing phase would not end as quickly as I wanted it to. It was messy and unavoidable, but I found my way through it.
What inspired you to do the eGuide?
I didn’t expect the emotional healing to take as long as it did. The more I reflected on the experience I had, the more I wished I'd have known what to expect when I was diagnosed, but particularly when treatment finished. When treatment finished, instead of the party I expected, I fell into a short period of depression. I had never experienced that before or since and I feel that I could have avoided it or at least lessened the impact, if I had known to expect the emotions that surfaced when treatment finished.
The inspiration came when I spoke to my volunteer coordinator at the Cancer Council in Sydney. It was years after my own diagnosis, but she reminded me of how few people lived through the diagnosis that I was given. I knew that I needed to do something to help more people, although I had no idea what at the time. But, I did know that reflecting on my own experience and sharing that knowledge could help others who followed on the same path.
How did you choose survivors to be part of the eGuide?
I wanted to bring a community of women together who were passionate about providing an avenue for cancer survivors to thrive. I did a lot research and connected through LinkedIn, Facebook and their websites. I read their stories. Some connected so closely to mine that we used the same words to describe our experience and I felt an instant connection. While other women had experienced things in a different way, I was intrigued to find out more from them.
As I started talking to the ladies and we shared our stories, some of the ladies suggested other women I should approach, which I did. Each time, I felt like I was talking to a trusted friend, with some of our conversations lasting well into the night. Each one sharing their own experiences, challenges and the tools they used to overcome the challenges. They did this in the hope that it would save other women some of the anxiety that we had experienced.
What did YOU learn from doing this project?
I have learned so much about how different everyone’s experience with a cancer diagnosis is. We all approached healing in ways which were authentic for us. There were parts of my own experience I had forgotten, but saw reflected in these women. I was also reminded of what an amazing community we have to draw on. We are all here to support you as well.
One of my main learnings was how little I understood about how my own diagnosis had affected those people close to me. I realised this as I spoke to each of the ladies and heard their stories, but also from other survivors who have shared their stories with me as well.
How have you been inspired by this project/survivors?
Wow, I feel like I have 20 new best friends. Each of the women has inspired me in their own way. They have beautiful souls and they have inspired me to continue this project. In many ways, they have validated it for me.
I believe, more than ever, that everyone has their own survivor story. I have many as well, not just cancer. As I have shared this project with people I have met, so many have shared their survivor story with me. I have also had many people ask me to interview them, to give their story a voice. So, stay tuned as I continue this narrative in more eGuides, webinars and a global summit mid-year.
Interviewed by Angela Long