Cancer Diagnosis Evokes Feelings of Missing Important Life Events

PJ Hamel Health Guide
  • When you’re diagnosed with breast cancer, what’s the first thing you think?

    I know what you feel, for sure: shock. “Cancer? Me?? But… why?”

    For most of us, the words “cancer” and “death” are inextricably entwined. Tremendous strides in research and preventive screening have made certain types of cancer much less deadly than they used to be, particularly colon and breast cancer.

    But still, hearing “the C word” is like getting punched in the stomach: it leaves you absolutely breathless.

    So what you feel is disbelief and terror. But what’s the first thing you think?

    “What am I going to miss?”

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    After hearing the words “You have cancer,” my first clear thought was that I absolutely had to live to see my son through high school. Nik was 15 when I was diagnosed, just beginning to edge into that minefield that divides boys from men. Facing death, I ached for him on so many levels. Who’d tell Nik to wear his seatbelt and do his homework? Who’d watch his soccer games and listen to him practice violin? Make sure he ate breakfast?

    Who’d be the mom, when Mom was gone?

    My thoughts raced from Nik’s needs, to my own desires. “I won’t see him fall in love and marry. I’ll never hold a grandchild close to my heart. I’ll never know who my son ends up BEING.”

    As it turns out, I did see Nik through high school; through weeks and months of breakfasts and homework assignments and soccer games. He’s now 23 years old, and I’ve watched him fall in love (though not yet marry). Someday, God willing, I’ll hold a grandchild in my arms.

    Recently, reading SharePosts on this site written by women in their 20s, I’ve started thinking about this sense of loss we all share – and how it changes with age.

    While those of us with grown children hope to see them prosper and establish families of their own, those of us whose children are young focus entirely on their passage to adulthood. We don’t want to miss a single bedtime story or school play. We want to be sure that when they cross the street and reach out for a hand to hold, we’re there.

    We want our kids to grow up with a mother. Period. End of story.

    But how about those of you in your 20s, who haven’t even begun a family yet – let alone established a serious relationship? The whole vast landscape of your life is spread out before you, just waiting for you to find a place to start. You’re full of energy, and plans, and dreams…

    And then cancer throws up a roadblock. One that looks and feels like Mt. Everest.

    “This can’t be happening to me,” you think. “I’m only 25. It’s not fair. I haven’t DONE anything yet.”

    And you know what? You’re right. It’s not fair. I feel your pain just thinking about all that might be taken from you, if cancer wins. The partner, the children, the career… the life.

    All of us survivors fear what we might lose, should cancer win and rob us of our future. But  the older you get, the smaller the theft. Not that us old-timers are any less eager to stay alive than you younger women; but we’ve already experienced decades of living, with all the joy and heartbreak they entail.

  • To forge a lifelong bond with a partner, perhaps become a mother, and find out EXACTLY what you’re going to be when you grow up – those are the dreams of most women. And when breast cancer strikes before you’ve begun to realize any of those dreams – well, that’s the evil heart of this vicious disease.

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    A cancer diagnosis halts your life in its tracks.

    The most you can do is go through treatment, have faith that the cure is coming, and believe this: Cancer is a rock in the path. Step over it; the path will still be there.

Published On: December 05, 2009