The Need for Breast Cancer Survivors to Reach Out to the Newly Diagnosed

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • I had a vision the other night of pennies. A sea of pennies, dark brown and indistinct, each looking exactly like the others. But as I picked up a handful and sifted them through my fingers, a shiny copper coin appeared. And then another. And I saw that not all the pennies were alike: there were shiny new ones sparkling amid the darkness. And there were others, not so new and brilliant, but gleaming like softly burnished gold.

    In a sudden flash of insight, I realized that I was seeing the world’s breast cancer survivors. Though we’ve all had our own personal experiences with the beast, we’ve all had the exact same experience: stepping over the line between health and devastating illness. Between faith in life, and fear of death. And once we step over that line, we join the pile of pennies.

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    Some of us, our edges still raw from treatment, begin to shine. We acquire a gleaming patina of hope, and love, forgiveness and generosity and a burning desire to help another woman fight the fight. We’re fierce in this urge, determined to use our hard-won knowledge to smooth the path of a sister just starting out.

    We pick up the phone and call a friend of a friend, a woman recently diagnosed, and we open our mind and heart to her, welcoming her questions, her tears, her rage. We make plans to bear witness with a lonely woman, far from home, as she gets her first searing dose of chemo. We knock softly on the door of the friend 12 hours out of mastectomy surgery; we assure her that the gaping, bloody hole in her chest will soon heal, as will her soul. We reach inside ourselves, and give back–again, and again, and again. And each time, our own souls move closer to the light.

    The months pass, and the rawness in us abates. The heart, once on the sleeve, retreats inside. The need to connect with other women on the brink of treatment becomes less desperate. Our day-to-day lives interfere, then gradually take back their usual center-stage position. Until finally we find ourselves cut off from the breast cancer sisterhood. Back in the mainstream. “You had breast cancer—but you’re over it, right? It’s gone?” Half gratefully, half cautiously, we nod: yes, it’s gone. I’m healthy. And God willing, it won’t come back.

    But we miss the emotional high of connecting with women in active cancer treatment. They spur our own memories of fear (since overcome), pain (now gone), and anger (dissipated). They shed light on the path we’ve traveled: how far we’ve come, how much we’ve endured… how very strong we’ve proved to be. And we miss that connection.

    So we dive back in. Into the deep end, where the sharks swim. We make a conscious effort to reach out to women with breast cancer: through a support group, an outreach program, or maybe a blog. And we gradually take on a subtle gleam. We’re wise women with breast cancer, with the knowledge and experience of what it takes to tangle with the beast and live to tell the tale.

    And, in that dark pile of pennies, we shine.

Published On: October 19, 2008