Breast Cancer Changes Your Life Plans

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • As I made my solitary way through a typical Saturday’s worth of errands today, I had lots of time to think. And not just about grocery shopping, overdue library books, and my suddenly inert laptop (easily, if expensively, fixed with a new battery—whew!)

    Saturday isn’t exactly the day I’d choose to head out to the only “real” shopping area within 30 miles of home; you know, the typical asphalt strip lined with K-Mart, Radio Shack, the national supermarket chains, Kohl’s, Sears, all those places that you have to visit every now and then. I gang my errands, since Route 12A in Lebanon, NH can be a parking lot on weekends. But since weekends are the only chance I have to go… well, as I said, I had a lot of time to think, sitting at red lights.

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    And I found myself thinking about plans. I used to try to plan my life, or at least attempt to envision it. Ten years ago, I wondered what I’d be doing in 10 years: now, in other words. Where would we live? Would we finally have discovered the elusive path to financial security? Would my mom and dad be alive? My son and husband… happy? 

    I imagined all sorts of scenarios. Some were worst-case (I’d be working on an assembly line; we’d be renting an overpriced, cramped apartment). Some were happy (I’d have a secure, fabulously lucrative writing job; we’d live in a beautiful house on Cape Cod). None, of course, came true. The best and worst usually don’t. Instead, we plow right down the middle of life, avoiding most of its tragedies and the majority of its triumphs.

    In fact, I have a semi-secure writing job that’s not fabulously lucrative, but pays the bills. Combined with two additional part-time jobs, I keep my son in college (yes, he seems happy), and help my husband out with his boat payment (yes, he‘s happy—and happiest on the water). We’re not living in a beautiful house on the Cape; but we’re in a comfortable house in a pretty town in New Hampshire. My mom’s alive; my dad’s passed on. See? Right down the middle.

    And partway through that 10-year stretch, I got breast cancer. Now THAT wasn’t even in my worst-case scenario. Cancer? ME?! It wasn’t something I even thought about, let alone worried over. And then, BOOM: biopsy-diagnosis-surgery-chemo-pneumonia-radiation-tamoxifen-Arimidex… And here I am, 8 years later, someone I never thought I’d be: a survivor.

    These days, I don’t imagine what the future will bring. I hope my son marries and has children someday; and I hope to be alive to dance at his wedding, and hold a baby close to my heart again. I hope to write a fourth book, this one focusing not on food, but on offering support and guidance to women with breast cancer.

    But I don’t imagine. And I don’t plan on any of it. Cancer has shown me just how suddenly my life can change, taking me in directions I’d never envisioned.

    In fact, cancer took me to a place that’s way different—and much better—than anything I’d ever planned. It opened my timid heart. And showed me my passion: reaching out to all of you as you face your own change in direction, your own changed plans.

  • Your own journey through cancer.

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    Come on, take my hand—we’ll go together.

Published On: October 13, 2008