FBC's Life Lessons

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When I was diagnosed with cancer two years ago this month, I never asked, “Why?”  Asking why would have been a logical response, especially considering the fact that I was a three-time marathon runner, ate a (very!) healthy diet and didn’t have an inkling of breast cancer in my family.

However, rather than ask “Why?” I wondered, “What am I supposed to learn from this experience?” As it turns out, one of the Silver Linings of my experience with breast cancer was learning some valuable life lessons. Lessons which, if you ask me, happen to be applicable to pretty much all of life’s challenges.

Lesson #1: Honor the feelings and let them out.

Prior to my experience with FBC (f-bomb breast cancer for new readers), I was a grin-and-bear it kind of girl who was reluctant to share any feeling other than joy. However, once ‘Roid Rage (the intense feelings of anger brought on by pre-chemotherapy steroids) and Chemo-Sobby (tears at the drop of a hat brought on by the chemo drugs) entered my life, I had no choice but to let it all out. And you know what? Expressing feelings, all feelings, happens to feel good. Really good. Though I no longer have either ‘Roid Rage or Chemo-Sobby (thank goodness!), I continue to openly express my feelings. And it still feels good!

Lesson #2: Asking for help is a sign of strength, not weakness.

As John Donne so memorably wrote, “No man is an island, entire of itself; every man is a piece of the continent.” It took a cancer diagnosis for me to really get the meaning of this. I now know that seeking support is both the loving and strong thing to do. By getting the right help, whether in making decisions or making meals, I came to realize that letting go of control and delegating is a way to honor yourself and to honor those around you.

Lesson #3: No Should-ing.

I used to be a big “should-er.” I was always saying “I should go to this. I should do that.” True, there are certain things in the world that are not options, e.g., death, taxes, eating, breathing (in the reverse order, of course!), and reading to your children. I also believe that being kind is a moral imperative that is nonnegotiable. Aside from these things, “should-ing” does not make for a happy life. I now make decisions based on whether or not it will make my heart sing.

Lesson #4: It’s just hair.

One of the things that I was most anxious about prior to starting chemotherapy was losing my hair. There are studies that show that for many women, losing their hair is worse than losing a breast. As soon as my hair started falling out, I had a Chemo Coiffure (i.e, I shaved my head). What I learned was that anticipation was far worse than reality. While I didn’t exactly think bald was beautiful, I realized bald wasn’t so bad.

Lesson #5: Breast cancer isn’t a fight.

Were the treatments awful? Yes. Was it a struggle? Yes, of course. Omnipresent in our culture are cancer “fighting” messages. Frankly, the thought of “fighting” makes my stomach turn and has a tremendously pejorative connotation. Why add insult (fighting) to injury (cancer)? So, if I didn’t “fight,” WTF did I do, you ask? I harnessed energy. I found Silver Linings. I laughed (at myself, mostly). I rested. I allowed the treatments to work. I tried a whole lot of things that I’d never done before (e.g., giving myself IV fluids, getting fitted for a custom bustier bolus, writing). I didn’t fight. I looked for inner peace and understanding and saw my life as a blessing full of Silver Linings.

How about you? What life lessons have you learned as a result of rotten circumstances?

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  1. says

    I never asked myself "why me?" either, Hollye. I figured with the number of women getting breast cancer the answer was more like "why not me?".
    Also as soon as my hair started coming out in my comb I took a scissors and hacked big pieces off. Then I went to my husband and asked him to give me a buzz cut just like his. He complied without a fuss, (neither of us are "hair" people). He said I looked pretty good bald, but I didn't want to be labelled as "that poor lady with cancer", esp. meeting the public on my job. So I had a very helpful lady at the Am. Cancer Society pick me out a wig in my hair color, chin length, and I was set. I felt it looked pretty good and that made me feel better about myself. Nobody guessed except my friends who knew, and I didn't have to wear my diagnosis on my shoulder, (or should I say on my head?). And since I didn't like looking at myself with a bald head, I was also given two very cute light knit caps with lace and a flowers on them which I wore around the house and to bed. Yes, night caps, one in soft blue and the other was lavender.
    My goal was to keep my schedule as normal as possible, to take time off work only when necessary, to make my appointments, to stay focused on getting well, and to remain serene, reasonably so. My friends were kind, and I did not deny them the kindness of lightening my day, running an errand, or just sharing a joke, even about FBC.
    The only time I shed a tear was when I would see much younger people than myself in the chemo therapy room who had cancer. That was tough!
    You are so right to say that FBC should not be labelled a "fight", no more than facing any other disease is a fight. I also don't like the word battle as used so often, " she is battling BC" or "she lost her battle to BC". You even see it in obituaries, and I have remarked to my husband how much I take umbrage at those expressions. Instead as Hollye advises look for the silver linings, and to shining stars such as Hollye, Kim, Jen, Marcia, and a world of women who are truly our "sisters" in all of this.

  2. E.B. says

    Your posts always inspire, make me laugh (and sometimes cry), but this one really hit home for me. I think you are the child my mother was supposed to have before me. Your attitude so closely mirrors hers. She was diagnosed very late in the game, but still gave it her all. When diagnosed they gave her very little time, we were blessed with almost, mostly good, eight years. Her (wonderful) team of oncologists and medical staff said her attitude was a major factor. The morning I walked into my parents' bedroom to say "Good morning!" and saw she was completely bald, eyebrows, eyelashes, I just exclaimed "Momma!" because her appearance just took me by surprise, she'd lost her hair, but overnight her eyebrows and eyelashes … gone (never realized how eyebrows really change one's face until then), and she smiled at me and said "I look like a little alien, don't I? What's your Dad making for breakfast? I'm hungry!" She never asked "Why?" (although I did, plenty of times). Instead she took the high road, made the very best of the time we had. When she would go in for chemo, she'd ask for a portable IV pole and she'd go off and visit other patients, particularly elderly ones. They finally switched her to a stationary IV because they did not want her walking around while undergoing treatment, maybe feeling ill, falling and hurting herself. She was NOT happy with that, said the staff was cutting into her social time. She fought the good fight, always with grace, elegance and valor. She was a HUGE Silver Lining in my life, as are you.