Breast Cancer Survivors Support Breast Cancer Patients

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • As I write this, spring is thinking about making its way north to New Hampshire. Yes, we’re still in the thinking stage up here; the temperature dipped down to 0°F a couple of nights ago, though today it’s climbed into the 40s–perfect weather for maple sugaring. The sugarhouses are billowing white steam as maple farmers boil down bucket after bucket of sap to create one perfect gallon of sweet amber maple syrup.


    The sun rises higher in the sky each day, turning the frozen earth to a quicksand of mud before finally–finally!–spring will arrive, sometime in May. Till then, I’ll be happy anytime the temperature gets above freezing.

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    Anyway, I was driving past my place of work a while ago, and felt compelled to drop by and see what was up. I saw a colleague’s car in the parking lot, and knew she must be in our bakery, teaching a bread-baking class.


    Sure enough, she and a dozen students were wrist-deep in sticky sourdough, kneading and shaping the loaves that would shortly go into the bakery’s hearth oven. Susan gave me a hug, and pointed out an older gentleman in the class. “His wife is in the other room, crying,” she said. “She’s going through breast cancer, and she’s upset.”


    I walked through the bakery, full of its yeasty, baking-bread aroma, and found Lauren sitting in a folding chair, magazine in hand, tears running down her cheeks.  Susan introduced us, and we started to talk.


    Lauren said she and her husband had driven from Val-d’Or, Canada, 350 miles north of Montreal. He was taking a bread class here at King Arthur Flour, where I work; she was waiting. She told me, in halting English, that she was French, 68 years old, one of 17 children­–12 girls, and five boys. “I was #13, and I was always so lucky,” she said. “But not anymore,” she continued, as the tears flowed more quickly.


    After a conversation involving my terrible French and her hesitant English, combined with lots of hand gestures, I understood she’d had two lumpectomies, radiation, and was now on Arimidex. Whether from the radiation, the drugs, or the whole experience, she said she couldn’t stop crying. “I cried in September, October, November… and I’m still crying,” she sighed. “I’ve gained so much weight, and I’m tired all the time. How can I be happy now?”


    This past Valentine’s Day, I hit the magic five-year mark: five years past treatment, beyond those days I’m starting to forget. Oh sure, I remember the course of treatment; the four surgeries, chemo, radiation, drugs. The array of side effects, which at the time felt like the Seven Plagues of Egypt. A case of lymphedema.


    But, until I saw Lauren’s tear-streaked face this afternoon, I’d forgotten the sadness. The temptation to give up, to throw in the towel. To wonder, “How can I be happy now?”


    I hugged Lauren, holding her close, and whispered in her ear, “You WILL be happy again. Trust me. Time heals. Time heals…” She cried harder; I held on tight. Eventually she stopped, smiled, and squeezed my hand. We walked together into the bakery, where her husband and his fellow students were loading their sourdough loaves into the big brick oven.


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    “I don’t want anybody to see me crying,” she said, wiping the tears from her face. “It’s OK,” I answered. “We’re all friends here.” Her husband walked over to introduce himself, and I could see love pulling them together like a magnet. I shook his hand, we talked, then I hugged Lauren one more time, telling her she’d feel better soon, and walked out.


    And I know she’ll feel better; maybe not tomorrow, maybe not in a month, but soon. “How can I be happy again?” Time, and love; that’s the answer.

Published On: March 25, 2007