She Struggled to Share News of Her Cancer Diagnosis

Would opening up about her breast cancer on Facebook bring new prayer partners and other support?

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- Posted on Sep 25, 2020

Sharon Mangas; photo by Mary Ann Carter

4/9/2016, 11:21 a.m.
Dear friends, family and acquaintances,
I got some news this week that threw my world out of orbit.

I stopped and stared at the computer screen. Since being diagnosed with Stage I invasive ductal breast cancer a few days before, I’d been fretting about how to tell people outside my immediate family. Was Facebook really the best way to share the news?

There wasn’t time for lots of phone calls. I’d considered e-mailing, but it was frustrating trying to compile all the addresses. With Facebook, I could reach more than a thousand friends at once, some I hadn’t spoken with in years. I tapped at the keyboard: So send all your good thoughts, encouragement, prayers, jokes, meditations, favorite Bible verses, good karma and funny stories my way.

Wait, what if I got inundated with pity? That was the last thing I wanted. Once I posted my news, I’d have no control over people’s reactions to it and how those might make me feel. I just couldn’t bring myself to hit Enter.

The diagnosis at the Community Hospital in Indianapolis had felt like a bad dream, even with my husband, Mike—my rock—at my side. Dr. Zusan, my surgeon, exuded confidence and kindness, but just hearing the C-word made me break down in sobs. Dr. Zusan took my hand.

“Sharon, it’s going to be okay. This is very treatable.” She told me about the surgical options, then directed me to medical oncology. “It’s time to meet Dr. Agarwala,” Dr. Zusan said. “He and I like to say, ‘We have you covered, A to Z!’”

Dr. Agarwala was reassuring, even if he was young enough to be my son. “When I see the results from the Oncotype DX—genetic—testing on your tumor after surgery,” he told me, “that will give us direction on whether chemotherapy is necessary.” Chemo—another terrible C-word. I envisioned myself gaunt and bald.

The faces of my grandchildren flashed through my mind. I was 65. Would I live to see them grow up? Last, we conferred with Dr. Patel, my radiation oncologist, who outlined radiation options.

The weeks before surgery went by fast, with important decisions that had to be made. After Dr. Zusan told me that the survival rate for my type of breast cancer was almost the same whether I chose a mastectomy or a lumpectomy, I opted for a lumpectomy, which meant removing only the tumor and the tissue around it. I decided against reconstruction.

Now, just days before surgery, here I sat, staring at my computer, agonizing over whether to share my situation. Why is this so hard, Lord? I needed all the prayer partners I could get. Mike and I were new to our church and didn’t know many people there yet. Posting my diagnosis might prod other women to get mammograms. But I still didn’t want to let go.

Was it because I felt helpless to control what was happening in my own body? Afraid that cancer would take over my life? I’d been down the road with trying to control situations before, and it had nearly been my unraveling. Yet I’d never felt so vulnerable as now, so powerless. I seemed paralyzed.

Suddenly I felt something, like a metaphysical tap on my shoulder. It was God, I was sure. And he was asking a question: When are you going to surrender control? Some things were bigger than me. Wasn’t it better to share my burden with him and, through him, with the people in my circle?

I hit Enter. After Mike and I had dinner, I logged back on to Facebook. There were already 70 notifications, with new ones being added as I watched. I heard from people across the country: family, childhood friends, high school and college buddies, former coworkers, even friends of friends. I got hundreds of “likes” and “loves.”

Most heartening was hearing from women who were on their own cancer journey or in remission. I had an instant Facebook support group! “Stay positive,” a friend from California, battling melanoma, posted. “Only let the pity party last a minute…if you even attend it!”

An old friend in Colorado told me how her mother had been filled with shame and guilt while facing breast cancer during the 1970s. “I am so proud that you chose to share your story. Big props for letting in all the love you can!” A guy I knew from high school wrote, “The fact that you are opening your heart to go public and inviting love and support is tremendously powerful.” With this mighty group of prayer partners backing me, I knew I could handle the challenges that lay ahead.

The surgery went well, confirming that I was Stage I. Because my lymph nodes were free of cancer and the score from the genetic testing was in the acceptable range, I was able to forgo chemotherapy. I underwent a month of concentrated radiation treatments and started on a hormone-suppressing medication, which I still take. At 69, I’m now four years out from my diagnosis, and my prognosis is good.

I’ve never regretted sharing my story. I can’t control the cancer or people’s reactions or my worries sometimes. What I can do is let go, let God and let love in, as my Facebook friends reminded me.

Just one more post: Thank you for being part of my circle of life.

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