Monday, April 14, 2014

There Are Worse Things Than Losing My Breasts

Since I had my bilateral mastectomy, I've tried to keep the loss of my breasts in perspective. There are worse things that could happen. For me and for many of us who have had breast cancer, the news we most fear is that our cancer has spread beyond our breasts — that it has become metastatic.

Recently, two contributors to BreastFree.org received this devastating news many years after their original diagnoses. One of these women had early stage breast cancer and had been told that the odds of her cancer spreading were only 1%. The other had a serious Stage 3 cancer, but after eight years with no evidence of disease, she had begun to hope that she was cured. I ache for these wonderful women. And their stories remind me not to take a single day for granted.


Some cancer survivors describe the appreciation of life that comes from confronting their mortality. For me, after my initial diagnosis, everything seemed more vivid and wonderful — just taking a walk could bring me to tears because the flowers and sky looked so intensely beautiful. And that intensity extended to my family. I felt a passionate love for my husband and sons, a depth of feeling that all too often becomes submerged by the routines of daily life. And all too soon, as I recovered from surgery and resumed those routines, that intensity faded.

But my perspective has permanently changed. I make a conscious effort every day (well, almost every day) to slow down and enjoy my friends and family, and the world around me. If I ever receive the frightening news that my cancer has metastasized, I want to feel that I've enjoyed my good health while I've had it.

Even for those to whom the worst happens, there is reason for hope. Many women with metastatic breast cancer live for years, sometimes decades, with a high quality of life. A number of the treatments available today are gentler than in the past, and if one fails there are usually others that can be tried. I fervently wish that my two friends respond well to treatment and have many more years to stop and smell the roses.

Photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons.