When Breast Cancer Gets in the Way of Life

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • Up here in northern New England, September is a month with a changeable personality. Early September is a reflection of August: the symphony of summer is still at its crescendo, a cacophony of bright colors set against a lush green background. Flowers bloom, tomatoes ripen, the sidewalks in town are crowded with tourists in splashy tropical colors: neon-colored T-shirts, the ubiquitous Crocs in a rainbow of hues, all swirling in a multi-colored rainbow.

    As late summer wanders down its path, its colors gradually fade, done in by unrelenting heat. Grass that was thick and green turns patchy brown. Summer flowers give up the ghost. Even the tourists go home, called by the start of school or the end of the two-week vacation.

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    My work ratchets up in late summer. I’m a catalogue writer, and my multiple jobs converge to produce a perfect storm of busy-ness. I’m writing about Christmas, spring gardening, and back-to-school–all at once. Sometimes, walking out into a hot summer afternoon, I’m jolted by the fact that it’s not snowing, or the leaves aren’t falling… where am I? WHEN am I?

    But every now and then–like today–there’s an eye in the storm. A day without a plan, time to collect myself. This morning I walked into town, slipped into a church (it’s dark, cool, silent, and empty, perfect for having some unfettered thoughts), sat in a pew, and cleared my mind. As a writer, I rely on my creativity; and creativity is a well that’s filled by a quiet emptying of everything in (and on) my mind, giving new ideas room to emerge. And what entered my mind this morning was this: having a firm plan and sticking with it doesn’t always produce the best results.

    Most people want to control their lives, start to finish. They know exactly what they want to be when they grow up. They have an image of the person they want to fall in love with. They see three kids, a split-level on a cul-de-sac, baking brownies, taking an aerobics class. The path is clear, straight, paved–and safe.

    But, sitting in church this morning, I thought about a handful of religious icons: Buddha, Mohammed, Jesus, Moses. Did any of them begin life with a plan to become a great spiritual leader? And how about secular heroes–when Teddy Roosevelt was a sickly, asthmatic child, did he plan to become a world-famous naturalist and one of America’s most prolific authors, let alone President of the United States? Did Wilma Rudolph, suffering through childhood polio, plan on winning three Olympic gold medals and earning fame as “the fastest woman on earth”?

    How do people achieve greatness? It truly can’t be planned. Here’s what I believe. Start each day by letting go of any guilt and regrets from the day before. Look at things with a fresh eye. If you simply must have a plan, let it be flexible; when the plan has to change, don’t resist; let it. Trust that your life is taking you exactly where you need to go. And enjoy the journey; relax. It’s only by letting go of stress that the “greatness” that’s in all of us can grow and flower.

  • Cancer isn’t something any of us plans on. But when it comes, follow it where it takes you. You may be surprised and gratified–as so many of us are–with where you end up.

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Published On: September 20, 2007