The Silver Lining Philosophy after a Diagnosis of Cancer

Finding The Silver Lining |

For long-time readers, I hope that you will indulge me as I write about the Silver Lining philosophy after my diagnosis of cancer, specifically f-bomb breast cancer. You see, this summer has brought a whole new audience to The Silver Pen, which is a Silver Lining in and of itself!  So, I thought that I’d take this opportunity to give you a little bit of a background on the blog.

In September of 2010 (I can’t even begin to believe that I’m coming up on my 3rd Cancerversary), I was awakened in the middle of the night with stabbing pains to my right breast.

I thought, “Hmmm, that’s weird, but probably nothing.” Three more times that week, the same thing happened. As a nurse, I assured myself that breast cancer doesn’t typically hurt and that the pain in my breast was simply from the dense tissue resulting from drinking too much caffeine. But, I decided to have it checked out…just to be sure.

My gynecologist assured me that it was “probably nothing” and referred me for a mammogram and ultrasound…also just to be sure.

My mammogram and ultrasound appointments went well, until they didn’t. I knew that there was an issue when I was told that the radiologist wanted to see me before leaving.

When I walked into his office I saw my breasts on four large computer monitors. I thought, “This isn’t good.”

“You’re a nurse, right?” the radiologist asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“Well, that means that I can talk with you more frankly than I could other people, right?” the radiologist asked.

“Yes,” I said.

“You have 4 tumors in your right breast and 3 in your left. We need to do a biopsy immediately for what I highly suspect to be breast cancer.”

I found myself feeling like a deer in headlights.

As a nurse, I know that patients forget virtually everything that comes after hearing the dreaded words, “you have a tumor.” So instinctively I knew that I would forget what I would hear and needed to write everything down.

So, I said, “Hold on, let me get my journal so that I can write down what you are saying.” When I looked down, I saw that my hands were trembling.

In an instant, my world stopped.

Here I was a healthy, happy, vegan-eating, marathon running 39 year-old mother with absolutely no family history of breast cancer. This diagnosis literally rocked my world.

As a nurse and social worker, I now found myself in a very unique position, moving to the opposite side of the bed.

From the time of my diagnosis, I realized that I had two choices about how I was going to handle my diagnosis: from a place of fear or a place of optimism. I chose – and it was indeed a very active choice for me – optimism in the form of Silver Linings. So, throughout the blog, you will see me refer to Silver Linings. 

Treatment was pretty horrendous for me (understatement of the decade!). Despite my difficulties, what kept me going was the ability to look for and find Silver Linings. Now here’s the thing about Silver Linings, unfortunately, they don’t take away fatigue, hot flashes, nausea or constipation but they do provide balance and perspective.

After telling my friends and family about my diagnosis, during the time before beginning treatments, I started writing. Prior to this experience I had written a few academic papers and a couple of book chapters, but I had never written about myself.

I started my blog, The Silver Pen, as a way to keep people apprised of what was happening to me during treatment. I was thinking of my family as well. I didn’t want them to be burdened with having to repeat stories over and over again. So if my husband wanted to get away from Cancerville and go out for the evening, when people asked how I was, he could (and did!) say, “Read the blog.”

The Silver Pen then became my personal experience with cancer written through the lens of my professional experience.

An unexpected Silver Lining was that in a fairly short period of time, the blog went viral. What started as a way to communicate with family and friends became a source of information and – so I’m told – inspiration that gives a descriptive voice to the breast cancer experience.

As many of you know, I write about a myriad of things, from cancer to healthy recipes to travel to books, partly because who in their right mind wants to write (or read) about cancer everyday? I mean, really.

So, please allow me to thank the readers who have been with me for the past 2 1/2 years and welcome new readers.

* This beautiful photograph was taken by my dear friend and photographer extraordinaire, Elizabeth Messina.


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  1. Orysia says

    Wow, Hollye, you couldn't have said it better…"a deer in headlights." I too was stunned recently when I was told that I had FBC. I eat right, exercise, have no family history of cancer…. WTF!!

    Congrats on your upcoming 3rd Cancerversary!!! My journey is just beginning. This Friday I am having a partial mastectomy. Thank you for inspiring us; giving us courage; and now, most importantly, giving us hope that we too can celebrate our own cancerversaries in the future.

    Hope you will continue to write this blog for a long time and I wish you many, many more years of health and happiness.

    • says

      Dear Orysia,
      Thanks so much for your note. I'm so sorry to hear that you have joined the club to which no one wants to belong. FBC.
      Please know that I'm here to help and will absolutely keep writing.
      If you have any questions or there are any topics that you would like for me to cover, please don't hesitate to ask.
      In the meantime, best wishes tomorrow.
      Take good care!
      PS – Here is a link to a surgery packing list:
      Hope it helps!

  2. Carolee Groux says

    I have been an avid reader of your Silver Pen blog for the last couple years. Reading your blog has helped me to find the silver linings of living, despite FBC. I congratulate you Hollye on your faithful writing of this blog, and your approaching third year "cancerversary" coming up Sept. 10.
    I in turn will celebrate my "cancerversary", (love that word you've coined), on Nov. 13, 2002.

    You look like an angel in that celebratory and ethereal gown! So appropo for a BC survivor. <3

  3. says

    It's good to read your story Hollye, and I quite like how you stress that optimism was an active choice. Sometimes we need to make a choice – and make it actively, work on it, foster that decision, help it to grow. This blog is a wonderful example, and I do so enjoy the silver linings. ~Catherine

  4. E.B. says

    Darn, hit Send before adding that is one GORGEOUS photograph, looks like it is a wedding photograph, so beautiful!

  5. E.B. says

    Hollye, your Silver Lining blog IS a Silver Lining for many, many of us. It provides perspective, tears, laughter, hope … and the photographs and recipes aren't half-bad either! Working in a field where one tends to see the not-so-nice side of humanity, I am so grateful to have my go-to blogs (yours and Frances Schultz' being two of them). They make me smile and put things in perspective on bumpy days when I really want to go Rambo on people (not really, but sometimes I could just smack 'em). Here's to a bazillion more Silver Lining posts! And maybe a book? Love my books!

  6. Diane says

    There are many qualities I appreciate about The Silver Pen: humor, honesty, reality, and a place where I felt I had a fellow adventurer on the daunting path we shared/share through diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and wellness. Though we walked on different trails I sensed the encouragement in your words across the vast miles between us.

  7. ann boyer says

    Hi Hollye,

    I am glad to read this amazing story about your diagnosis, which I had not heard before. I experienced a period of subtle preparation when I found my little lump. Maybe you had some almost unconscious similar process. A gift, really. (My lump was anal.)

    I enjoy finding you in my inbox. I do sometimes wonder how your privileged life strikes some of the patients who are less fortunate. In my support group I am exposed to working or single people who face a far worse path than I do, with my wonderful husband and good insurance, education, and financial resources. This is indeed a journey of constant learning.

    It's a lovely day on Martha's Vineyard, sunny and mild, birds chirping in their nests. My latest abscess wound is weeping and I am housebound, but life is Good. The more of it, the better!

    May you be well, may your life flourish and be long, may all sentient beings be well! Ann

    • says

      Thank you so much for your note, Ann. I am always so grateful for your comments and emails.
      I acknowledge that I have a beautiful, amazing life. I come from the firmly committed philosophy: To whom much is given, much is expected.
      Thus, I have always worked and continue to work as a nurse and a social worker, at the bedside of patients who literally have nothing. I do everything that I possibly can to help them!
      I too marvel at the journey of constant learning.
      Enjoy Martha's Vineyard. I've never been but hope to visit one day.
      Sending you all of my very best wishes for the healing of your abscess.
      Take good care, dear Ann!