Category Archives: Cancer

The Reset Button

I spent most of February and March worried about breast cancer. It felt as if I had fallen down a rabbit hole and couldn’t get my bearing for the last six weeks. It turns out that what I thought was good news after my repeat mammogram, was really only the beginning of a longer, drawn out saga.

After two mammograms and two MRIs, one with a biopsy, I finally received the all clear. But during that time I was lost in limbo land. Did I or didn’t I have breast cancer? What was showing up on the tests? And why do they need to do a biopsy in the MRI machine? It is bad enough to have 12 core samples removed from my (now black and blue) breast, but in and out of a closed MRI to a claustrophobic person adds insult to injury.

Instead of focusing on the roller coaster of fear, I am embracing the sweet relief a benign diagnosis brought to me, my family and my friends. The ‘all clear’ diagnosis is a reset button for how I want to live my life. Frankly anyone one of us is each just one diagnosis away from all sorts of medical disasters. We can’t control the length of our lives, but we have some control over how we spend it.

This is a lesson I keep learning over and over again. It was mine for a while after I survived cancer in my mid 20’s. I learned it again when my husband had cancer 19 years ago (this month!). And I learned again a 1 ½ years ago from my accident, from which I am still recovering. None of this makes me unique. Many friends and loved ones have had their own medical/life-death adventures. We are all learning similar life lessons, gained from the heartbreak and pain of loss and recovery.

For whatever time left to me — hopefully many more decades — I want my life to be of my making, on my own terms. I want to spend my time doing things that light up my life, bring a smile to my face and makes my heart soar.

I dodged a bullet this time, but I know that next time I might not be so lucky. This time I came to a place of acceptance. If life is short or long, I want to laugh too loud, take up lots of space, make more mistakes, apologize with an open heart and love fiercely. Bottom line is that I have had a great life, with many, many things and people to which and to whom I am most grateful!

So in honor of my recent healthy diagnosis and the 32nd anniversary of being free of cancer, I publicly renew my commitment to spending time doing the activities that I find fulfilling with friends and family who share laughter and joy and love while living.

Who’s with me?

 



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

Repeat Mammograms Suck

After getting a mammogram last week, I learned that I needed to have a repeat one done. These are not words that any woman wants to hear, much less one who is a cancer survivor. Once you have heard the dreaded cancer diagnosis, everything feels like borrowed time—even those of us who are 30+ years out.

For the last four or five days, every time I started to think about it I found myself sucking in air, but never fully exhaling. I’m proud that I didn’t obsess – an old pattern of mine for many years. Basically I gave myself permission to think about it and then let it go. Meditating and mind discipline (another word for yoga!) is finally working for me.

Cancer screening is not fun or pleasant; it can involve moments or days or weeks waiting for results. Since my cancer was malignant melanoma in 1985, screening for me also means a full body check by a dermatologist. I don’t like going, but I sure like knowing. Head in the sand is not an acceptable option.

Some of my random thoughts as I was waiting to get in for my repeat mammogram were:

I thought about how my breasts fed and nourished my kids and how breastfeeding was an important tool in my mothering tool box for many, many years (yes, I was that kind of mother ;-).

I thought about the odds and how both my mother and maternal aunt had post-menopausal breast cancer. They say that 1 in 8 women will get breast cancer in their lifetime. I remember sitting on an all-woman Board of Directors for an international non-profit with 15+ other women and speculating that at least 2 of us might get breast cancer. These past several days I wondered if it was going to be me.

The good news is that all is fine and the problem was a technical one with the mammogram and not at all with me. But I write this post to remind everyone reading it to get screened. Cancer happens. For years after my cancer in the mid 1980’s I stopped getting cancer checks. I was young and I didn’t want to deal with it. After my first child was born, I finally grew up and realized that this is a part of life.

So while I am doing a happy dance after getting the good news today, I know that I might be in for another round next month when I go in for my skin cancer body check. Odds are that they will want to biopsy something (they usually do) and I will get to spend another few days waiting and wondering. Such is life.

 



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

6 Helpful Things to Say or Do for a Cancer Patient

I wrote this in honor of my 30th year being cancer free. In April of 1984 I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Luckily it turned out alright and here I am 30 years later to tell you that cancer is not an automatic death sentence. I have since gone through cancer diagnoses and treatments of my husband, my mother, my brother and my father-in-law. additionally, my mother-in-law and my aunt are also both cancer survivors. 

Last post I called the 10 Things Never to Say or Do to a Cancer Patient. This time I want to share helpful things that were said or done for us as we went through our cancer adventures. Here is a list of actions and activities that most cancer patients will welcome.

1) Offer to listen. And then really listen. No talking about your own fears and agenda (or anything on the list from last time). Listen, help them process. If this makes you uncomfortable, then offer something else from the list below.

2) Take them a meal. Don’t offer, just do it. Better yet, organize their friends to bring meals. This was one of THE best things our friends did for us when my husband was sick. Frankly, with all the decisions that had to be made at the time, choosing what to eat or to cook or even to buy was overwhelming. Being able to open the front door and find healthy cooked meal was perfect. Our friends organized meals that came 3 times a week for 8 weeks. It was a lifesaver for us.

3) If they have kids, make play dates and or sleepovers. This was one of the hard parts for us when my husband had his cancer. Our kids were 6 and 1; our daughter was still nursing and couldn’t be separated, but our son was in 1st grade and had tons of energy. Unfortunately, the parents at the private school where he was enrolled really let us down. There were very few offers to have him over and it was a drain on me. We moved him out the school the next year because of this. I yearned for caring people to spend time with my son so that I could be there for my husband.

4) Offer to come over and do laundry, especially if they have kids. Laundry does not stop because someone has cancer. It needs to be done and it is very helpful when someone else does it. Having my laundry washed and folded was a real treat and helped us out immensely.

5) Offer to listen to the cancer patient’s spouse/partner. If they are married, the spouse is the one who is most likely doing everything, frightened out of his/her mind and receiving very little support. My husband and I both agree that while it awful to be a cancer patient, it is equally awful to be the spouse of one. So many people are focused on the patient, rarely is anyone offering to help the spouse.

6) If you can’t figure out what to do or what to say, then say so. Speak from your heart. It is okay to say that you don’t know what to say, and that you are there for them. Tell them that you are thinking of them and that they are not alone. One of the most comforting things I heard was from a friend who told me that I was not alone, going through this terrifying experience. She told me that all our friends were going through it with us. Even though we were on the ‘front lines,’ they were all freaked out with and for us as we moved through the cancer diagnosis, treatment and recovery period. This was very helpful for me.

I always tell people that belonging to the cancer survivor club is one of the best clubs ever–it sure beats the alternative. Have you had a personal experience with cancer? Would love to hear what helped you get through it in the comments section.



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!

10 Things Never to Say or Do to a Cancer Patient

I wrote this in honor of my 30th year being cancer free. In April of 1984 I was diagnosed with malignant melanoma. Luckily it turned out alright and here I am 30 years later to tell you that cancer is not an automatic death sentence. I have since gone through cancer diagnoses and treatments of my husband, my mother, my brother and my father-in-law. Additionally, my mother-in-law and my aunt are also both cancer survivors. Here are my 10 things never to say or do to a cancer patient/survivor. Next post will have ideas for how to help friends and family members going through a cancer episode.

1) Don’t act like it is contagious because it isn’t. This is less of an issue now, but when I was diagnosed in 1984 many people actually took a step backwards when they found out, as if the cancer was contagious. By the time my husband had his cancer in 1997 and my brother had his in 2003, this reaction had mostly gone away. Thank goodness, because the last thing cancer patients need is to feel more isolated or alone.

2) Don’t take a huge gulp of air and squeal as if it is the end of the world. This reaction is scary to everyone and especially cancer patients. We are already frightened out of our minds and worried about it being the actual end of our world. Your reaction could scare people. So don’t over react.

3) Don’t start telling stories about how someone you know (or read about) healed their cancer just by thinking positive thoughts and meditating without other treatment. This really happened to my husband. A good friend told him that if he meditated correctly his cancer would just go away. One of my biggest fears was that he would decide to wait on having his cancer treatment to see if meditation would work first. Thank goodness he was realistic. He opted for surgery to remove the cancer AND meditation to feel better AND ayurvedic treatments for healing AND to give up red meat because he thought it would help. Telling cancer patients that they should be able to meditate their cancer away is patronizing; it blames them for their own illness by implying that their negative thoughts cause their cancer. Now I am a big believer in positive affirmations and that a positive outlook can bring about positive things, or at least make dealing with the negative ones a bit better. BUT making cancer patients feel worse for their own illness is not helpful and in fact can be dangerous. Anxiety, fear and depression are secondary cancer symptoms; you don’t need to make cancer patients more anxious fearful or depressed.

4) Don’t start telling stories about people who died from cancer. Really, this actually happened to me, and in fact still sometimes does when I reveal that I had malignant melanoma. I have heard about all sorts of people who died, or almost died, or had to have crippling surgeries. These are all fine stories to tell, just not to people going through a cancer adventure. Tell the stories to someone else or better yet, save these horror stories for campfires.

5) Don’t ever ask a skin cancer patient/survivor to look at a mole on your body that has you worried. This one happened to me from the world’s most self-centered women I have ever known. I revealed to her that I had had malignant melanoma and she actually pulled up her shirt to show me a mole that she was concerned about. There are important skin cancer signs that everyone on the planet should know about. The skin cancer community calls them the ABCDEs of skin cancer and they stand for Asymmetry, Border, Color, Diameter, Evolving. No matter where you live, it is worthwhile to check out your moles and/or skin growths using your ABCDEs or with a dermatologist. But don’t ask skin cancer survivors to look at, diagnose or assure you that you are cancer free.

6) Don’t go to cancer patients for comfort and support about their cancer. If you are upset and need comforting, find someone else to go to. We had several people fall apart when my husband was diagnosed. They wanted us to comfort them. We were just barely holding on ourselves and had no reserves to comfort anyone other than each other and our kids.

7) Don’t prescribe treatments. Unless you are a physician, this is not your place. Second guessing cancer specialists is a national pastime. I am a huge believer in second opinions, alternative treatments, taking mega doses of vitamins, eating and drinking organic, practicing yoga, chiropractic, acupuncture, homeopathy and meditation. I do all of these things to help me feel in control of my health and well-being, which is what cancer patients/survivors need. Let’s face it, cancer is about cells in your body out of control and anything that helps cancer patients feel more in control is good in my book. For my husband’s cancer we had to choose between two different surgical options, one of which was more experimental at the time. We got a second opinion, made our choice and then went on from there. Having people want to revisit our decision was disheartening.

8) Don’t insist that they get seen by “the best” doctor. This one really burns me as if there is only one doctor in the whole world who is the only expert. I don’t buy it. There are lots of great doctors out there and there are also lots of crap ones. I don’t believe that there is only one expert. I know of plenty of people who have been treated by “the” experts and they still die or have negative outcomes. Don’t make cancer patients crazy, trying to get seen by someone in another city when they probably have doctors in their own backyard who are saving people’s lives every day.

9) Don’t tell cancer patients that they caused their own cancer. This one happens all the time and it is ridiculous. Telling people that they should have slept more, exercised more, eaten less, breastfed for longer, gotten married, gotten divorced, etc. is not helpful. All cancer patients spend some time thinking about what caused their cancer, most of us never really know. Personally I blame a very bad sunburn from when I was nine. It makes me feel better to think this and it doesn’t hurt anyone. But I bristle when anyone else tries to tell me why this happened to me. If you feel the need to analyze the source of someone’s cancer, become a wellness coach and give advice to people who will pay you.

10) Don’t do nothing or pretend like everything is alright. When I was diagnosed it was all I could think of, and when we were going through my husband’s cancer, again, I got obsessed. Ignoring what we were going through was strange. Our family was in crisis and we needed support. It felt like a huge drain of my energy to be with people who wanted to pretend that everything was all okay, because it wasn’t.

I always tell people that belonging to the cancer survivor club is one of the best clubs ever–it sure beats the alternative. Look for my suggestions on what to do to help your friends and relatives going through cancer diagnosis, treatment and recover in my next blog post.

Have you had a personal experience with cancer? Would love to hear your stories about what didn’t help in the comments section.



As a blogger, I enjoy sharing my ideas and thoughts with people, and I get a special thrill when someone leaves a comment. When you share my posts on social media sites, I jump up and down doing a happy dance. So thank you!