Story

A bit over a year and a half ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer and underwent a mastectomy, followed by chemotherapy. This is not uncommon – 1 in every 8 women will have breast cancer at some point in their lifetimes. This morning, I stumbled across a New York Times blog that solicited personal stories from those who have or have had breast cancer. I have a lot to say about this disease, its treatment, and the long-term consequences, but this is the story I submitted:

“My story is not one of heroics. Breast cancer did not move me to start a foundation, become an advocate, or discover reawakened joy in existence. My story is much more mundane and much more common.

What breast cancer did was to add 20 years to my functional age, leaving me with significant long-term mental and physical issues that the mainstream medical profession does not yet acknowledge because few studies have been done to prove that such long-term side effects occur. Because chemo brought about poor short-term memory, inability to multitask, and lack of stamina, I lost my job. Because of lack of support from the medical profession, I lost my disability income. Because I cannot in good faith apply for full-time work until these issues resolve, I have not yet qualified for unemployment benefits.

At 64, living alone, the only heroics I can muster are to prepare my home of 34 years for sale and churn up some excitement for a new life with different opportunities in a more affordable location. I’m sad about this. I loved my fast-paced and creative profession in the big city – I’d just been at it 5 years after having gone back to school to get a masters degree – and wasn’t ready to give it up. I love my home of 34 years, where I raised my children and lovingly tended a gorgeous garden. I have friends here.

However, I’m getting my head around the idea that this move will be positive in many ways. I won’t have to work, but I may find a new niche in my profession in a slower-paced smaller community. A new house means I can start a new garden and have some fun renovating. I’ll meet new people.

My first task is to let go of my needling anger with the medical profession and other institutions that should have provided better support during and after my chemo. One more appointment, then I’m washing my hands of these bad vibes. My next challenge will be to tip over the line from nostalgia for my old life to excitement for my new one. I’m almost there – I can feel the momentum. Then I’ll make the big move. I genuinely believe that this change, as difficult as it has been, will be positive. Change almost always is.”

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