Set It All Free (by Guest Blogger Cheryl Koehnen)

 “A story has no beginning or end: arbitrarily one chooses
that moment of experience from which to look back or from which to look ahead.”

– Graham Greene

Join Firefly for our second guest blog, written by Cheryl Koehnen, whose story includes past, present, and future perspectives that begin with a single experience.


Set It All Free

I was 41 that year. I went in to see my doctor for my annual physical. As I was finishing up with my flu shot, the nurse told me that since I was over 40 now, I needed to start getting a mammogram every year. and that another local clinic did them on a walk-in basis. Since I had taken the rest of the afternoon off, I decided I would take care of it right away and be done with it.

I took care of the mammogram at the other clinic and they said that I had what was known as “dense” breast tissue and I needed to have another mammogram done at a different location.  I was able to get in right away and took care of that appointment too.

While getting that second mammogram, the technician told me they needed to do a biopsy. “Hmmm, okay”, I said, thinking nothing of it, just that I had this dense breast tissue that must be difficult to see through. They did the biopsy and sent me home. I never gave it a second thought. I mentioned it to my husband but, since this was my first mammogram ever, we assumed it was normal procedure.

The following day I received a call from my doctor. He greeted me, made some cordial small talk, and then told me he needed to give me some news. I never saw it coming. Not even a hint. He proceeded to tell me that I had cancer. Breast Cancer. I didn’t hear anything after that; everything he said was a low hum on the other end of the phone line, like listening to a piece of electronic equipment that was experiencing feedback.

He paused for a long while and must have asked me if I was okay several times.  I think I finally answered that I wasn’t sure if I was or not. I remember asking what type of cancer it was and I had to have him repeat it five times before it registered for me and I could actually write it down.

I don’t think I was able to do anything for at least an hour after that. I knew I needed to tell my husband, but I was numb and unable to even speak.  Thousands of thoughts rushed through my mind: how would I tell my husband, how could I tell my children, was I going to lose my breast(s), was I going to be bald, was I going to constantly be sick, what was going to happen to me? It was like a tornado going around and around in my head spinning out of control.

It took me a long time to tell my husband that day, as I couldn’t get the word “cancer” out. It was like my mouth couldn’t form the word and actually say it out loud. When it did finally come out, I was still so numb and didn’t want to scare him that the conversation was very matter-of-fact. We waited a few days to tell the kids until it was time for me to have surgery and we could no longer put off the discussion.  It was even more difficult than telling my husband. They took it pretty rough and it was difficult to watch them go through that.

I went through surgery, chemotherapy, and radiation that year. I endured all of it and never once did I think that I was going to die. I never let that get inside my head. In fact, I never cried over it, I just did what I had to do to survive. It impacted me more than I knew at the time because the funny thing is, as I write this or anything else about the experience, I cry all the tears I didn’t let myself cry back then.  Now I finally let myself feel all those feelings I didn’t allow myself to have back then.  It is a very cleansing and cathartic thing for me to tell my story and to finally experience all of the emotion that I stuffed down back then. It feels good to set it all free.


Cheryl Koehnen is a seven-year Breast Cancer Survivor.  She is married with two adult children and lives in the Twin Cities, Minnesota area. Cheryl works as a Certified Peer Specialist which is an individual with lived experience with Mental Health challenges that has been trained and certified to help others with their Mental Health issues in recovery.  In her free-time she enjoys spending time with friends, writing, reading, and riding her motorcycle in the warmer months.

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