My name: Cynthia Besteman
Where I live: New York, NY
How far out of active treatment?: Seven years
Originally from Seattle, WA, I moved to NYC in the late 80s and worked on Broadway for 10 years. Tired of the lifestyle (I was totally fulfilled but tired of never having money) I made a switch into real estate (where I made a lot of money but felt totally unfulfilled). I remember thinking to myself, “something has to change” and then ironically, I was diagnosed with Stage 1 DCS (plus a few other weird forms in the pathology). Well, that wasn't the change I had envisioned.
A routine mammo/sono is what found it, actually the sono as the mammo came up as clear. I had a lumpectomy, radiation, and was required to do Tamoxifen for 10 years but quit after five. I really struggled with the side effects of Tamoxifen. The diagnosis set my life plan in a totally different direction after that. Today, I own an organic skincare company that caters to women in treatment for cancer. I also hold wellness retreats and spa nights for cancer patients/survivors. I would not wish cancer on anyone but for me, it helped put my life on a path that is incredibly fulfilling and one I never would have found had I not gone through it!
What does the word 'survivor' or 'survivorship' mean to you?
I really struggle with this word. I find myself using the word “warrior”. I feel like we need to find a better word to honor those of us who didn't survive, I am no stronger because I happened to survive, an others didn't. I have seen women MUCH stronger than me be taken from this disease and I feel disloyal calling myself a survivor.
Survivorship means to keep striving to appreciate what I have and to help those who are coming behind us to navigate through the process. A friend, who was diagnosed six months before me, said "let me be your flashlight through the dark" and that it what I try to be to those newly diagnosed. We are a sisterhood that is unlike any I have ever known.
If you had to describe what survivorship feels like in three words, what would they be?
Weird, empowering, ever changing.
What's one thing you wished people outside of the cancer community understood about survivorship?
That the year or two after treatment is actually the hardest. They want us to be back to normal, they think we are cured but they don't understand that this fucker could come back at anytime and if it does, it is literally life-altering. We are dealing with PTSD for years after treatment (I still have diarrhea on mammo day… TMI?). My full-blown fears subside as time goes on, but I still have triggers.
What are some things that have helped you during this time?
The first thing I say to people who are newly diagnosed is "get a therapist and get on Klonopin!” That helped me through my first two months of tests and treatment plan. I think support groups are KEY! There are so many in so many forms that usually you can find one that works for you. I did reiki, massage, and acupuncture during treatment, and tried yoga but I sucked at it so that didn't stick. Lots of walking also helped.
Biggest survivorship pet peeve?
When people say, Well you were lucky you got the good kind of cancer or Why didn't you opt for new boobs, if they were free? and the biggest pet peeve?!! before I knew my official diagnosis and they weren't sure of my stage people would say "well anyone of us could be hit by a bus tomorrow, we aren't guaranteed !" well, I don't know a SINGLE SOUL who has been hit by a bus!!! But I know plenty of people who have been killed by cancer!!! The bus analogy should never be used!
What, if anything do you think should be done more in the cancer community in terms of survivorship?
More focus needs to be put on life after treatment. When the hospital "sets you free" after a year of going there every week, you feel lost and scared and wonder if that headache is something more or if sciatica is in fact sciatica. We are expected to be "cured, normal, and back to business" but we all are so fucked up from what we have been through. We also need support systems for our co-survivors. They have been through hell as well, but no one focuses on how they are feeling.
What's your favorite swear word?
What's your theme song?
”I Am Light” by India Arie
Consider this a free space to say anything you want about this topic. Word vomit, away. No judgement. I want the realest of the real here.
I hate that I don't know why I got cancer... I hate that I got cancer. I hate that my body betrayed me. I hate that Tamoxifen made me gain weight. I hate that when I hear stories about women who had my diagnosis and then metastasized I can't sleep for a week. But, without cancer, I would still be in a life I wasn't living to the fullest, I would be stressed about money, I would not have met the AMAZING women I have met, I would never know the feeling of a sisterhood like this, I would not know how important nutrition, healing modalities and ingredients are. I would also not know how amazing some of my friendships are, how important my family is to me, and how some people in your life have to be let go and that is okay. It’s a double edge sword for sure!
Connect with Cynthia on her website.