Yesterday, I attended my first industry event since being diagnosed. The last event was a large conference in April. I had just had my biopsy…literally. I underwent the biopsy the day before driving 5 hours to the conference. I remember being in so much pain, and only able to drive with one arm. I was speaking at the conference so I had to attend. I went through the motions of networking and attending all the seminars, dinners, etc with a smile on my face while trying to avoid being bumped or brushed up against. The side of my breast was bandaged heavily as they had removed eight samples of breast tissue to test for cancer. I couldn’t lift my left arm and I was black and blue. I made it through the conference and fulfilled my speaking duties but physically I was a wreck and emotionally I was on pins and needles waiting for the biopsy results. Five days later, the bomb was dropped that I had breast cancer and would have to have a mastectomy.
I haven’t seen most of my collegues since then, so yesterday’s event although much smaller than the conference, was my first time to network since my cancer journey began. I was very nervous and anxious. Most people didn’t know what I have been going through but several did. Would people be awkward around me? Would I be awkward around them? I am not known to be a shy or quiet person. I am very gregarious and outgoing. But I haven’t been feeling that way for quite a while. Most of my time now is spent alone and my self confidence has taken a huge beating since my mastectomy. I struggled with what to wear, having tried on a dozen or so outfits before settling on a black pencil skirt and fancy sweater. The sweater was “roomy” so not to bring attention to my uneven and weird looking chest. I was having a good hair day, thank goodness, so that helped. As I walked into the event I had very mixed emotions. I was very excited to see my friends but also nervous about seeing them. Weird I know, but again, a lot has happened since I have last seen or talked to any of them. I took a deep breath, walked in, checked my coat and immediately started scanning the room for someone to talk to. I saw a group of friends standing together chatting so I strode over and pushed my way into the circle.
“Patti, so good to see you” was the reaction. I hugged everyone and felt my fear start to subside. The people who “knew” wanted to know how I was doing and told me I looked great. (Always nice to hear at anytime). I made jokes with people that were trying to catch a glimpse of my chest without being obvious…even though they were.
“It’s ok, you can look” I said, “But there’s not much to see!”
People appreciated that I was able to joke about “things.” Hell, my sense of humour is what has got me through some very dark days. Now, just so we’re clear, I wasn’t going up to people who didn’t know about my situation and broadcasting the news. To them, I was still the same Patti that they had seen at the conference, and no one knew the difference. It was nice to just be me. Patti Hone, President of a Marketing firm, and someone who has been in the industry for years and knows a lot of people. I was starting to really feel good…relaxed and back in the groove. It was so nice to be talking about something other than breast cancer and remembering the life I had before this shit storm hit. I was mingling, talking, laughing and really enjoying myself until….it happened.
I was standing talking to a group of people when another person joined the circle. He immediately interrupted our conversation with “Patti, I just heard about your cancer and mastectomy. OH MY GOD!!!!” Immediately all eyes were upon me. I looked around and saw the shock on everyone’s face. Oh fuck, why did he have to make that announcement?
“Yes, I did, but I am now cancer free and doing well, thanks”. I was really hoping that would end this train of conversation even though everyone was very quiet. Unfortunately it went from bad to worse.
“So what are you doing about boobs?” he continued.
“I will be undergoing reconstructive surgery in the spring”, I gulped, not wanting to really go down this road and feeling my face starting to flush.
” Wow, so when’s the big reveal?” he blurted far too loudly.
” I wasn’t planning a party. But if I did you certainly wouldn’t be invited!”
Fu#k you. I thought…and almost said. But I held back. I could feel my eyes welling up; more out of anger than anything else. I was mortified. How could someone be so ignorant and crass…and in front of a group of people? I could see the horror on everyone’s face. I needed to remove myself as there was no fixing the vibe that this asshole had caused.
“I need a drink. See you guys later”. Head held high, I went in search of the waitress I saw carrying a tray of what looked like Cosmopolitans. I grabbed one, took a sip and realized it was fruit punch! Ugh, I just can’t win.
The rest of the event went well. There was a lunch and I sat at a table with friends and other people I hadn’t met before. I tried to put out of my head what had happened but it was hard. As I sat, trying not to relive what had happened in my head, I realized that yes, I was embarrassed by what he had said, but in actual fact, he was the one that embarrassed himself. His conduct actually made me feel better about myself. It reminded me of how strong I am. How I don’t put up with any shit from anyone and that I have an inner confidence that when put to the test rises to the occasion and gets me through whatever life throws at me.
I really hope I get a chance to speak publicly about my journey. I want to share my story with women, men, cancer patients, or anyone that has had to face a hurdle in their life. I want to remind everyone that knowing who you are and never losing that, is the most important gift you can give yourself and others. We all have a personal “brand” that at times may need a refresh, but our brand’s core and values are what makes us unique, strong and memorable. I may have been altered physically and yes it has also affected me emotionally, but my “Brand”, Patti Hone, hasn’t altered. My values, compassion, humour, sensitivity, knowledge and experience is as strong if not stronger than before. I am really happy that I went to yesterday’s event. It was so good to see everyone and to “get out into the world” again. And even with the “incident” I proved to myself and the people around me that I have a brand that is memorable and one that I am very proud of.
President of As You Like It Marketing & Communications Inc. Award winning speaker and author. Breast cancer fighter and blogger. I’m sharing my journey…the good, the bad and the ugly. Hoping to help anyone else that has been touched by breast cancer be it you or someone you know or love.