Life After Breast Cancer
When you go through breast cancer treatment, your life feels like some kind of terrifying amusement park ride. Locked into your seat, there’s no chance of stopping, getting off, or changing direction as you head through the House of Horrors. Finally, coughed out at the end, you step off to resume your “regular life.” Guess what? Ain’t gonna happen.
Once you experience cancer, your “regular life” takes on new meaning. You appreciate deeply commonplace experiences, like the taste of a pizza, or the smell of rain. But you also may find yourself constantly on edge, wondering if “they got it all.” Hoping cancer won’t come back. And–surprise, surprise–missing treatment. No, not the treatment itself; but the fact that you were DOING something about your cancer, and that someone was watching out for you. Now, with treatment done, it’s “see you in 3 months.” Or six months. WHOA–who’s taking care of me now? Scary, huh?
Guess what? You’re not alone. Researchers are discovering that the months and years after breast cancer can be as psychologically and physically challenging as the months of treatment itself. Yet little attention has traditionally been paid to breast cancer’s aftermath; once the doctors have done their thing, they move on–and expect you will, too.
Do you find yourself continuing to struggle with breast cancer? Or, if struggle is too strong a word–does it continue to haunt your thoughts? If so, I’ve read two books that I recommend highly. And both, coincidentally, are entitled After Breast Cancer.
After Breast Cancer – A Common-Sense Guide to Life After Treatment, is written by oncology social worker and breast cancer survivor Hester Hill Schnipper. Schnipper had worked with breast cancer patients for years, and had developed a well-respected, wide-ranging psychosocial support program for survivors at Boston’s Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center–all before she herself was diagnosed with breast cancer. Her journey through diagnosis, treatment, and the aftermath, combined with her training as an oncology social worker specializing in breast cancer, clearly gives her incredible insight.
Schnipper’s casual “hold your hand” style is at once compelling and comforting. Through her contact with many, many survivors, as well as her own experience, Schnipper gives advice that’s clearly from the gut, rather than textbook. With chapters ranging from “Finishing Treatment: the Very First Weeks” and “Concerns of Husbands and Partners” to “Sexuality,” “Professional Issues,” and “Friends,” Schnipper covers the whole gamut of issues we face as we learn to live our lives again–after breast cancer. “This book continues women’s age-old tradition of reaching out to and helping one another,” says Schnipper in her preface. “[It] represents all that I have learned from so many wonderful women. It comes from them, through me, to you.” Indeed, you can hear the wisdom, comfort, and caring of many different women as you read this book. I guarantee it’ll give you a new, less angst-filled outlook on life after cancer.
In After Breast Cancer – Answers to the Questions You’re Afraid to Ask, breast cancer survivor Musa Mayer combines “both the medicine and science of breast cancer, and my own and others’ stories that possess the power to heal, explain and counsel.” Mayer interviewed 40 survivors for this book, and presents their experiences and insights through direct quotes (helpfully offset in italic paragraphs). Hearing the voices of Nancy, Debbie, Maria, Kate, and so many others is hearing our own experience: in each of these survivors’ stories, we find bits and pieces of our own. And we take comfort in knowing that we’re not alone.
In addition, Mayer includes a lot of good hard medical information. In chapters like “Everything You Want to Know About Recurrence” and “Follow-up Visits and Worrisome Symptoms,” she uses statistics, studies, and cold, hard facts to address our ongoing obsession with “did they get it all?” She also addresses the emotional issues so many of us face, post-cancer: finding your “new normal,” dealing with fear, losing friends to cancer, “aches, pains, and tears in the night”–sound familiar? It should. Mayer and her 40 “muses” have been through it all, just like you. And thankfully, they’re alive to share their stories.
After Breast Cancer – A Common-Sense Guide to Life After Treatment, Hester Hill Schnipper, 304-page softcover, Bantam Books, 2003
After Breast Cancer – Answers to the Questions You’re Afraid to Ask, Musa Mayer, 197-page softcover, O’Reilly & Associates, 2003