The 10 things I Know About Breast Cancer: A Survivor's Advice

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • 1. Breast cancer teaches you all kinds of things you never knew. Like the difference between radiation and radiology. And what an oncologist does. How to pronounce adriamycin. And that the infusion suite has absolutely nothing whatsoever to do with a luxury spa.

    2. It doesn’t hurt. No, breast cancer mostly doesn’t hurt (unless it’s inflammatory). But the treatment can be an absolute bear.

    3. Your body will never feel exactly the same again. You’ll be missing part or all of your breast(s). You might have sore ribs–forever–from radiation. Chemo may leave you with tingling feet and a prickly scalp. Drugs make your joints ache. If you’re lucky, you might escape most of these cancer souvenirs; but chances are you’ll experience some of them. Accept it: little aches and pains are probably going to dog you.

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    4. Going through breast cancer makes you a hero in the eyes of your friends and family. They praise your strength, your endurance, your bravery. I don’t consider myself a hero. I was in the wrong place at the wrong time, a random victim of a crummy disease. I got through it because I was lucky; the only bravery I possess is the ability to keep trudging forward, day after day. Heroes are firefighters rushing into burning buildings; heroes are leaders exhibiting grace under fire. I’m like an old plowhorse, who only knows how to go forward. And that’s what I did.

    5. Breast cancer gives us, as Americans, access to some of the greatest health care in the world; and I’m grateful for that. Imagine being a woman with breast cancer in an impoverished society, with no or only primitive medical care. You probably won’t make it; your children will be motherless; and you know it. Imagine that, and be grateful for the circumstances that allowed you to be treated with all the know-how the medical community can muster.

    6. Breast cancer kills. It kills way, WAY too many good people: sisters, mothers with small children, grandmas, company presidents and spiritual guides and artists and wives and… just too many beloved people.

    7. After cancer, life goes on. The sun rises, people go to work, babies are born, kids make the honor roll. Yeah, life goes on–whether you’re there to enjoy it, or not.

    8. Breast cancer changes your life. For the better, if you let it. Little things that used to bother you no longer seem important. Your appreciation for the commonplace increases a hundredfold. You learn what it feels like to be taken care of. And later, you learn how good it feels to take care of someone else going down the same rocky path.

    9. I know this: cancer is lurking inside me. It’s just sneaky enough to have escaped the radiation, the surgery, the chemo, all those drugs. I know you’re there, cancer; but I intend to live forever. So far, so good…

    10. Cancer reveals things you never knew about your friends and family. The colleague who can’t stand the sight of blood, offering to bring you to chemo and then fainting when she comes with you to the blood draw. The sister who’s a natural-born caretaker… and the sister who’s never learned to focus on anyone other than herself. The casual acquaintance who’s stronger than you ever believed… and the best friend who’s scared enough to totally disappear from your life–forever.

  • This is some of what I know about cancer. How about you?

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    Add a comment and share your own truths about breast cancer.

Published On: August 02, 2007