I believe in the power of silver linings. Not long ago, I was diagnosed with cancer. The experience turned out to be one of the best things that ever happened to me.
Granted, what I had was by far the most benign form of breast cancer: ductal carcinoma in situ. Stage 0. I didn’t even know cancer came in Stage 0, which the doctors told me means that it’s not yet invasive. I was lucky in that the cancer was caught early, so early that I ended up having a simple lumpectomy, and nothing else.
But it was still the “C” word, and that’s when the silver lining kicked in. Starting from the moment I had a biopsy, the outpouring of love and support from everyone in my life — family, friends, husband, kids, neighbors, coworkers — stunned me.
One friend made a CD filled with “you are loved” sorts of songs, along with Helen Reddy’s “I am Woman (Hear Me Roar).” People sent so many bouquets of flowers the house started to look and smell like a funeral parlor. I had more food than I could possibly eat — strawberry-rhubarb crisp, lemon pound cake, an onion tart, Indian food, chocolate chip cookies,. My sister sent a Vera Bradley breast cancer awareness quilted purse, and a margarita mix kit, because nothing calls for margaritas like a little breast cancer. I had phone calls from pals all over: Texas, Georgia, California, New York. I was set up on a Catholic prayer chain, which meant that I started getting concerned emails from people like the former nun who is friends with the wife of my mother’s cousin.
My husband was the best. He had lost his own mother to breast cancer when he was just 19, and he came with me to every single doctor’s appointment, his face pale with concern, asking all the questions that I didn’t remember to ask, pressing for certainty and debating statistics like reoccurrence rates with radiologists and oncologists and surgeons who sometimes seemed a little shaky in their math skills.
I was giddy with all the attention and buoyed by the sense of being loved that lingers even now. That silver lining forced me to stop focusing on my silly shortcomings and to forget about feeling any kind of sorry for myself. I’m certainly not recommending that anyone get breast cancer — as if we even have a choice — but I would say that I now believe that a small bad thing is often just a tiny shadow of a cloud. And it was a cloud that made me appreciate just how sunny and wonderful life is.
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