Writer, mother, wife, volunteer, and survivor: PJ Hamel brings her stories, wisdom and optimism to the breast cancer community.
When asked what I do, I say I’m a writer. If you ask me what I am, the answer is the same: a writer. I’ve been writing ever since I learned how to shape letters by copying the big A-B-C chart marching across the top of the blackboard in Mrs. Gardner’s first grade classroom.
Since I’ve been in the working world, I’ve never earned my living any other way but writing. These days, writing is called content creation, and often labeled blogging – which is what I do here on this site, blogging about breast cancer and how it intersects with a woman’s life, turning it upside down and inside out before (hopefully) retreating into a dark dead-end of some obscure capillary trail, never to return… hopefully.
Another thing that defines me is my New England-ness. Though born in Wisconsin, and having taken an early and brief tumble through New York, I truly grew up in Connecticut and Massachusetts, went to college in Rhode Island, got married and lived in Maine, then moved to New Hampshire, then back to Massachusetts – Cape Cod, specifically. I currently telecommute to my job at King Arthur Flour in Vermont, where I’ve been happily employed for the past 23 years.
We survivors all have a story to tell. Mine started with a bad mammogram, and quickly progressed to ultrasound, needle biopsy, “I’m sorry I don’t have better news for you…” I had a lumpectomy, and when that didn’t do the trick, a mastectomy and reconstruction. A lymph node was involved: chemotherapy. Cancer had spread out of the node: radiation. More nodes were sampled during surgery: lymphedema. Heck, I even came down with pneumonia at the nadir of chemo treatment; I dragged a hissing oxygen tank around with me all through Christmas that year.
Now, nearly 13 years later, I’ve become a different person. I’m still happily married; still a mother; still writing. But unlike those pre-cancer days, when good health was a blissfully ignorant assumption, I no longer have an innocent confidence in the future. I trust my son will marry and have children someday; and I hope to be alive to dance at his wedding, and hold a baby close to my heart again. I want to gradually retire from the everyday working world, continuing to write until my hands no longer rest comfortably on the keyboard.
Still, I don’t plan on any of it. Cancer has shown me just how suddenly life can change. It's taken me in directions I’d never envisioned – which is a good thing. Cancer has brought me to a place that’s way different (and much better) than anything I’d ever planned. It's opened my timid heart. And shown 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.
Let’s go together, shall we?