April 21, 2024



Now for the surprise:

You’re having a health crisis you didn’t plan for—you didn’t get to make one critical decision.

Even the start date’s a non-event by the time you’re shocked into realizing what’s been going on.

Breathe. Grieve. Believe.

My surprise call came in August 2020. I had no medical background and needed a crash course to understand what the doctor tried to explain. I felt like Charlie Brown; all I heard was, “wah-wah-wah-wahhh.”

And then, I had to repeat the nonsensical conversation to my husband. It sounded so foreign to me the first time I said, “I have breast cancer.”

It’s okay.

Breathe. Grieve. Believe.

And then I told my parents and the girls, and of course, I cried. Did I mention that part yet?

Even though I had my husband and family by my side, we were all dumbfounded and lost.

I wasn’t a hero or a warrior, for that matter. I couldn’t fight someone who cut me off in line at the supermarket; I’d apologize and let them go ahead. The thought of fighting cancer, err, made me cry.

And I cried so much I couldn’t believe the tears. And then I’d curse. I put sailors to shame. Then I’d go back to crying.

I wasn’t supposed to be the hero. My journey had yet to begin. If only I had known.

All I needed to do was the following:

Breathe. Grieve. Believe.


Even though my immediate loved ones surrounded me, it made me feel more alone and scared, and dare I say, ashamed for not feeling normal.

I wanted to run away from myself, my body; it didn’t matter where. Only I’d die of breast cancer, no doubt, alone on some mountaintop somewhere. And what good would that do me?

Some people are so lucky to have faith; I can’t claim to be that person. Not then. I wasn’t grateful for breast cancer. Oh no, I cursed it.

It was out of my control. Did I mention I had always been a secret control freak? I tried to prevent bad things from happening. As you can see, I did an outstanding job of it, too.

Even if you don’t believe it, you’ve got this.

Breathe. Grieve. Believe.

I didn’t believe I could do it. I won’t lie. But I still had one thing left under my control (Anything! I’ll gladly take it)—my attitude. 

So I left the serious stuff to the doctors and vowed to laugh through cancer. No matter how hard it got, and even while my world had shattered, somehow, I made it matter when I wrote my first anything-but-the-tears post, “To Catch A Cow.”

I couldn’t prepare for the shock of discovering I had cancer, but I could control how I handled my cancer journey. And I’m here to show you. You can control yours, too.

Now remember:

Breathe. Grieve. Believe.

Series Written by Stephanie Ortiz