Breast Cancer: Belief in the Power of Positive Energy

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • October hasn’t been a good month for a lot of women I know. On the one hand, it’s National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and the Big Boys in retail have stepped up to the plate, checkbook in hand, to support all kinds of breast cancer initiatives with wads of dough. We have to be grateful; tied as their donations are to everything from inexpensive pink candles to KitchenAid’s Cook for the Cure $300 pink mixer, it’s might be tempting for some to dismiss their efforts as self-serving. And yet… the money flows in. It’s for a great cause. And it helps every one of us. So thank you.

    On the other hand, I’ve been in touch with an awful lot of women lately whose treatments aren’t going well. I’m a member of our local cancer center’s volunteer support team, which pairs breast cancer survivors with women going through a similar type of treatment. As much as doctors, nurses, family, and friends try to support their patient, mother, sister, wife, or girlfriend going through treatment, it’s comforting to have someone to talk to who’s been there. Someone who can assure you that yes, the tin-can taste in your mouth from chemo WILL go away, and oh, be sure to wear an old bra during radiation, because you’re liable to get felt pen all over it from the “bulls-eyes” they sometimes draw on you. I visit women in the hospital, just 2 or 3 days out from a mastectomy and reconstruction, and time and time again their faces light up when I “model” my own 5-year-old rebuilt breast. When you’re at your very lowest, casting your eyes down to see a bruised, swelled slash where your breast used to be, it helps to talk with someone farther along the path. Someone who’s climbed above treeline, and can report back about the beautiful view up ahead.
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    As a result of this volunteer program, I’ve met lots of women in treatment, and many have become friends. I’m always positive with them; carefully positive. Just because I’m 5 years out, look pretty good, feel OK, and haven’t had a recurrence, doesn’t mean they’ll have the same experience. But I encourage them to expect the best, to move on with their lives, to enjoy themselves. I suggest that they pick an imaginary spot on the horizon, somewhere they want to get to, and walk towards it every day. For some, that means a return to mountain biking, long-distance swimming, or golf. To others, learning to play the piano, or writing a book. The point is, it feels better to move towards a positive goal than it does to run away from a nasty experience.

    Lately, though, the women I’ve met have been having problems. A reconstruction that didn’t take; a “no brainer” lumpectomy that suddenly became stage 3 once the pathology was in; a recurrence, less than a year out. I hear the disappointment in these women’s voices, see the fear on their faces. And suddenly I feel like a very hollow Little Mary Sunshine, having assured them everything would be OK, encouraged them to think positively, go on with their lives… and instead of happily ever after, their story has taken a dark turn. Why am I merrily bobbing along on the waves, while they’re being pulled under by a riptide? Why did everything go right for me… and wrong for them? At the end of the day, is it as simple (and deadly) as who draws the short straw?

  • I refuse to accept that chance alone determines our fate. I won’t let go of my belief in the power of positive energy, love, and a good heart. But sometimes, I wonder. I really do.
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Published On: October 12, 2006