I've had breast cancer twice. Here's the advice I'd give someone like Katie Couric who's just gotten their own diagnosis.

Rachel Garlinghouse wearing a pink breast cancer t shirt and smiling on her porch
Rachel Garlinghouse.Courtesy Rachel Garlinghouse
  • Katie Couric recently disclosed a breast-cancer diagnosis and said she'd undergone treatment.

  • As someone who has had breast cancer twice, I know what it can feel like to hear news like this.

  • Here's what I'd tell someone hearing their own diagnosis for the first time.

I never thought I would be a breast-cancer patient. I don't carry the breast-cancer genes, I work out every day, I eat healthy, and I prioritize sleep. I prompt others to advocate for their health needs, including getting their annual exams. But all these things didn't save me from my fate. I'm 40 years old, I am a Type 1 diabetic, and I've had breast cancer — twice.

When Katie Couric said last week that she'd received a diagnosis of stage 1A breast cancer this year and had undergone a lumpectomy and radiation therapy, I was reminded once again that cancer doesn't care. Cancer doesn't care about your status; you can be wealthy and educated, even a health advocate, and cancer can select you.

If I could sit down and have a conversation with Couric or any other newly diagnosed person, here's what I would tell them.

Everyone's cancer-treatment plan is different

Despite what some people believe, there isn't one type of breast cancer. There are several types, grades, and stages. A person's treatment plan is — as it should be — highly individualized.

Couric's cancer was treated with a lumpectomy and radiation. The first time I had stage 1A breast cancer, which was both estrogen- and HER2-positive, I chose a mastectomy. Doctors didn't believe chemo would benefit me at that time.

The second time I had cancer, I chose to "bring out the big guns" with the support of my doctors. Not only did I have my breast implants removed and the cancerous mass removed from my chest wall, but I had 12 rounds of chemo, 33 rounds of radiation, and a year of immunotherapy. I'm also on five to 10 years of hormone therapy.

Not everyone will rally around you — but some people will become huge supporters

I hate to break it to a newly diagnosed person, but there will be people around you who simply can't handle your bad luck. Some friends and family may slink off quietly, gradually pulling away from you in your time of need. Others will outright ghost you.

The reality is that cancer is scary — so scary, in fact, that some can't stand to be around you since you embody a reminder of mortality.

But don't lose hope. The people who are your true ride-or-dies will stick around — and not only that, but they'll lean into your pain, hold space for your cancer journey, and show up in big and small ways. These are the people who will shave their heads when you lose your hair from chemo, show up on your porch to drive you to radiation therapy, and offer to scrub your toilets when you're too sick to do so.

As Mister Rogers said, "Look for the helpers." Don't focus on those who didn't show up — you need to spend your energy fighting cancer.

Getting help for your mental health is as important as getting help for your physical health

We often look at cancer as a physical battle — and it is — but it's important to remember that cancer patients are whole people. We shouldn't be reduced to our cancer. We are spiritual beings with emotional needs, as well as a need for mental-health assistance. I'm of the strong belief that cancer, in any form, is traumatizing.

Much of a cancer battle is a blur. It's appointments, scans, blood draws, infusions, being ill, resting, and recovering — on repeat. You're in it to win it, and once you've checked every box on your treatment plan, what then? You are left with grief, anxiety, gratitude, and myriad other feelings. It's so important to navigate this with the help of a mental-health professional if possible. One doesn't just "get past" or "move on from" cancer when they ring the golden bell.

Other people's cancer diagnoses can trigger you

Hearing someone else's diagnosis, be it someone famous like Couric or someone you know, can trigger a domino effect of emotions. After Olivia Newton-John's death, I spent days in anxiety mode. I'd ask myself questions like "Will my cancer come back?" and "Am I destined to die from this relentless disease?"

This is why, again, it's so important to have ongoing support. Friends and family can be wonderful sources of encouragement for you, as long as they give you space to be honest about your feelings without fear of judgment.

The kinship I feel with all my "pink sisters," Couric now included, is both a beautiful and a heartbreaking connection. As I move forward in hope, I continue to implore everyone to know their bodies — including their breasts — and advocate for themselves.

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