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Fearless After Cancer

You readily see the physical changes caused by cancer, but what goes on in your mind is just as noteworthy.
Only a few people at work knew about my cancer. There were others who suspected or figured it out but respected my privacy by not mentioning it. There was a health fair on campus in October and I volunteered to staff a breast cancer information booth and coordinated a few other events during the month with another cancer patient (Sorry, but I hate the word survivor and can’t bring myself to use it). Besides the pink hair, I wore pink in one way or another every day that month. I wanted to own my cancer, to acknowledge the reality of its existence, to let others know that if it happened to me it could also happen to them, to encourage other women to listen to their bodies and act even when there’s just the slightest whisper in the ear. Cancer didn’t scare me and hadn’t scared me for years. I was surprised at how many faculty, staff and students stopped by the booth and spoke of how cancer had touched their lives. I shouldn’t have been surprised at all; the statistics are one woman in eight will get breast cancer, and I know way more than eight women on this campus.

It’s been over five years, and I continue to go about my life fearlessly. I do what I want and go where I want to go, within reason and ability. I was raised to speak my mind and now feel almost compelled to speak truth to power.  I don’t have time for nonsense, and I never suffered fools gladly. I have learned when to let go or walk away, and I do. I have nothing to lose at this point. I don’t spend time worrying about cancer coming back. I intend to live a long life so odds are that cancer in some form will visit me again. I doubt I will ever have to face anything worse than what I have already been through.

You could say I have been liberated from all my fears, large, small or imaginary, and maybe even vaccinated against future, unknown fears.  On a bad day, I feel contented, but on most days I am very happy inside. A colleague who was on my hiring committee had told me long after I was hired that the committee selected me for the position because I was a tough cookie. I guess I am. Cancer couldn’t make me crumble. I may be a tough cookie but it’s a happy, tough cookie.  

Talk about this article with other patients, caregivers, and advocates in the Breast Cancer CURE discussion group.
In July 2011 Barbara Carlos was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer. A resident of Hawaii, she works in administrative support at a college and has retirement as her career goal. Music keeps her sane, as side effects of chemo and radiation linger. Overweight since childhood, she keeps trying to lose the estrogen-laden fat that her cancer loves.
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