I believe having breast cancer is a blessing

Karen - Arlington, Massachusetts
Entered on October 10, 2008

I believe having breast cancer is a blessing

Sure, easy for me to say now, as I approach my sixth year in remission; but my dance with cancer has been anything but a waltz.

I was blindsided when I found a lump in my breast at the age of 40. I had no family history of breast cancer and I lived what I believed to be an active and healthy lifestyle. But in looking back at the person I was prior to my cancer diagnosis, I see an essentially dissatisfied, anxious and perhaps even selfish person. I was living foolishly believing that my life-time was a limitless commodity.

Thinking that I had all the time in the world, I hesitated to say those things that needed to be said, to repair broken bridges of friendship or let others know how dear they were to me. I wanted more of everything life had gifted me and I wasn’t living in the present but caught somewhere between clinging to the past and clawing at the future. I raced about my daily routine with complete disregard for the remarkable functionality and intricacy of my loyal healthy young body, and when I worked the earth to plant flowers or walk the landscape I thought more about the where I was headed rather than the grace of that very moment.

I was no scrooge pre-cancer, I was undeniably a good person doing good things but I carried with that a sense of entitlement and expectation of a reward for good service.

Imagine my surprise when I was delivered a potential death sentence. My cancer had spread to my lymph system and my certain life was swarmed with sudden uncertainty. I could be undone by one lone cancer cell which had the capacity to multiply itself and destroy me.

My team of doctors laid out a strategic medical plan to save me which included all kinds of invasive terrifying procedures and medicines. But I felt a sense of peace accepting my immortality as I assume an addict or alcoholic finds solace in naming their demons. Once I realized that my death was an inevitable reality and approaching quickly-I began living my life a moment at a time. And time unfolded before me slowly and luxuriously. A minute I learned, could be savored and seem like an hour.

I can remember looking out the window watching snowflakes dance in the winter wind while chemo dripped into my veins and thinking “this is a beautiful moment”. A day without nausea became the foundation for an exceptional day. The smiles and touch of nurses and doctors felt like caresses of kindness. I learned to play with my children because I wanted to and could. I stopped criticizing my figure and instead felt a sense of immense gratitude to my body for sustaining me and perhaps even guiding me to find my own lump.

During treatment I grew up and learned to face fear with dignity. I was forced to reconcile my helplessness against pain, disfigurement, indignity and uncertainty. I learned to be comfortable in my nakedness of body and spirit among strangers. I relinquished control and rode along with the waves of time, even my own life was out of my hands. I received the strength of acceptance-because once cancer has knocked on your door and spread itself out in the guestroom of your cellular system there is no telling when it will demand your attention again. At first I lived in fear of my cancer’s inevitable return but then the anxiety receded and something beautiful happened. I fought back by living. By being present in each day believing in the limitless possibility of each new sunrise and understanding I had a limited number of sunrises left.

I think it’s natural for humans to define ourselves by our afflictions. How we feel is how we exist. But I prefer to leave the afflictions in the shadows and shine the spotlight on my strength. I believe that bad experiences are the best teachers and afflictions can transform us from victims to victors.