Blogging Challenge: My Answers to Nancy’s 10 Questions

Nancy from Nancy’s Point put out a summer blogging challenge. I’m up for it!

  1. Share anything you want about your cancer diagnosis (or your loved one’s). Share your age, cancer type, stage, when you were diagnosed, family history (if any), your reaction, how you learned the news, or whatever you’re comfortable sharing. 

I was diagnosed with breast cancer in May 2010, I had a lumpectomy and during surgery, they found a malignancy in one of my lymph nodes. A traveler. I was staged at 2B, had chemo (Adriamycin/Cytoxin and Taxol), and then radiation. Genetic testing showed I have a BRCA-2 mutation. Would I have had a mastectomy if I’d learned what I learned only after surgery and further testing? Probably, but I don’t regret my choice.

  1. What is the most outrageous thing someone has said to you about your (or your loved one’s) cancer?

There was the “spiritual advisor” who said anyone who gets cancer has deeply rooted bitterness that stems from unresolved forgiveness. She said if I didn’t go back and forgive everyone who wronged me, “even if you get better, the cancer will come back!” We all experience wrongs from others and I had consciously gone through the process I needed to forgive and love. In fact, I’ve been accused of being too forgiving. The irony, however, was this person’s comments kicked up so much resentment in me toward her! I eventually let it go. I knew she in her own way believed she was being helpful, but I had to distance myself. Comments like that at a time when you’re still in shock from diagnosis feel like getting beat up when you’re already exposed and raw.

  1. What is your biggest cancer pet peeve? I know it’s hard to choose, as there are many to pick from, right? But what irks you the most?

Wow, where do I begin? I know I’m irked by the prevalent myth of the cancer warrior who kicks cancer’s butt and goes on to be a triumphant hero, buoyed by incessant positivity. It’s the idea that having a positive attitude and strength of will is the key to recovery. I’ve seen so many people die who had such love of life and so much to live for.

It bothers me that “survivors” are expected to be constantly positive, inspiring and strong when we’ve gone through so much physical and emotional trauma. That kind of expectation made me want to isolate myself. Sometimes we need permission to be weak. That’s why I love telling people: Cancer kicked my ass!

As for those who don’t make it, it grieves me to no end when I see young adults die, leaving young children who won’t remember their parents. It saddens me to see spouses widowed too young. It hurts to see young survivors have their lives placed on hold, including marriage and family, career building, and enjoying life as young people do. When I got cancer, my children were already young adults, so this isn’t about me.

  1. What is something you want others to know specifically about breast cancer?

Despite the marches, pink products and other fundraising devices, cancer is not pretty or sexy, and far too many still die from it. I want to see the passion and money go toward research and a cure, not “awareness.”

Also, you can eat healthfully, have a spiritual practice, love others, wear a happy face … and still get cancer. You can do all the “right things” and still get sick because that’s part of the human experience.

  1. If applicable, do you worry about recurrence rarely, from time to time or a lot? What is your biggest worry today, right now, this minute?

Very rarely.

  1. Do you feel cancer has made you a better person? Yes, I know this a loaded question. If you do, specifically in what way?

No. I’m far worse. Okay, I’m being facetious. When I was diagnosed, I remember saying to The Caregiver (then husband), “They say cancer makes you a better person, but it’s not like I was an asshole to begin with.”

I do think going through cancer has forced me to erect healthier boundaries and be mindful to take care of my own needs. The biggest thing I’ve taken from my experience is that it’s not healthy to say “yes” when you mean “no,” and that it’s better to have others misunderstand you, even dislike you, than for you to loathe your own self. Giving is good, but not at the expense of your health. Cancer forced this issue for me.

  1. What is your favorite cancer book? (No, I’m not fishing for mentions of mine!)

I’ve read so many that I can’t remember all. I rarely read cancer books these days, which for a long time were replaced by a lighter topic: World War II. I know this sounds morose, but I read books about far greater suffering so I could deal with my own. That said, I loved Evan Handler’s, “Time on Fire,” which I reviewed here.  I also loved “Man’s Search for Meaning,” by Viktor Frankl, which is not a cancer book, but about finding hope in suffering.

  1. Besides your family, where do you turn for emotional support?

The support I’ve gotten online from others who have been in my shoes has been a lifesaver. During treatment, I was part of an online support group at breastcancer.org as well as other connections I’ve made through the internet, especially in the blogosphere. It amazes me how bonded you can feel to others you haven’t met in person.

  1. How many cancer blogs do you read and why do you read them?

I don’t know that I could give a number, which varies according to my time. I read them to connect with others. Family and friends can be wonderfully supportive, but there’s nothing like the understanding that’s exchanged with others who have gone through the same thing.

  1. Do you call yourself an advocate? If so, what drives you?

I suppose I am, but haven’t really thought of myself in those terms exactly. I’m driven by compassion. If I weren’t Jewish and felt better, I’d love to be Mother Teresa.

Comments

  1. Eileen, these responses to the blogging challenge are simply excellent. I have so many things in common with you. I also mentioned Viktor Frankl’s Man’s Search for Meaning as a top book. I’ve read it several times. I also go back to World War II-related books to learn and to put my life in perspective.

    • Beth, I’m so glad I’m not the only one with a penchant for World War II. The Holocaust keeps everything in perspective for me. Hope you are holding up in light of your aunt’s death. Many hugs.

  2. Eileen, I am about to share my answers on my blog, but I already see some of my answers are the same as yours, including the book by Viktor and the “forgiveness” comment. I love that you don’t worry about recurrence as much anymore. I wish I was the same way. It’s always so nice to see how much we all have in common. This is very helpful to me. Thank you for sharing your truths. xo

    • Rebecca, I relate to you and your perspectives so very often. The relationships I’ve made through the blogosphere, including you, have helped so much to affirm me and make me feel not so alone. xoxo

  3. Eileen, I laughed out loud, nodded vigorously in agreement and thoroughly enjoyed reading about your cancer experience – well enjoyed isn’t quite the right word – but you know what i mean. You captured everything so brilliantly in your answers. May you live long and prosper in your new life – and congratulations on becoming a grandma!

  4. nancyspoint says:

    Hi Eileen,
    I’m so glad you participated in my blogging challenge. I enjoy reading responses others share. I haven’t read either of those books. Since cancer, I’m a horribly slow reader. My concentration isn’t the same, for whatever reasons. I know you and I share similar opinions on much in Cancer Land, and then there’s the darn brca2 mutation…It’s always lovely to know we aren’t alone, and it’s always nice to learn more about others in our community. So, thank you for joining in on this challenge. xo

  5. Loved this. We have some of the same responses….I need to get crackin’ on mine. xx

  6. Marla Lukofsky says:

    Loved your responses, Eileen. I too share many of your experiences except for the Frankel and WW2 connection. It’s always such a pleasure to read your writings, no matter what the subject.

  7. “They say cancer makes you a better person, but it’s not like I was an asshole to begin with.”

    I love this. What a great comment, especially when it turned out The Caregiver WAS an asshole! 🙂

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