1993 -- Birth of a book, motherhood, panic


My book, The Breast Cancer Companion, was published in 1993, and even though I referred to it as my second child, it did not compare to motherhood. I had wanted a second child but breast cancer took that option away from me, so I settled for turning my time and attention to writing a book. It took me into the lives of so many women, men, children, families of those who had dealt with breast cancer. How brave those women were. They talked to me about their most private thoughts and fears when it wasn't something everyone did back then. I understand wanting your life to be private and I honor that, which was why I loved the women and men who agreed to talk to me. I wanted my book to be about the many sides of breast cancer. From the day they are diagnosed women have decisions to make, and I hoped my book helped them make those decisions by reading why some women chose a lumpectomy and others didn't. I wanted them to understand how differently women felt about their bodies and their decisions by hearing the voices of other women. From the notes and cards I got after its publication, I think I accomplished my goal.It was an exciting time. The Bridge was also going strong, and we were helping uninsured women with surgery and treatment weekly as other women around the state and country were raising their voices about other issues concerning breast cancer and cancer in general. The term advocate was being used. My own emotional journey was still in process. I was seven years out from diagnosis but still had panic attacks around recurrence. They probably came as a result of interviewing women who had recurrence 8, 10, 12, 20 years out from diagnosis. It was sinking in that you are free from breast cancer when you die of something else. Anything could bring on my panic attacks, but mostly it was something Kirtley said or did. Those firsts of a child that made me look into the future and wonder -- would I be here when . . . . I recall one such panic attack brought on by an innocent statement from Kirtley during one of her favorite nighttime rituals -- a bubble bath. She was 8 that year. "Mom," she said. "I have a crush on Walter." This was a first for my daughter, the sweet simple emotions of one child for another. She explained that she had told Eric, who she didn't know was Walter's best friend, about her crush, and he told Eric. She didn't know what she would do when she saw him again at soccer practice the next day.All of a sudden I was 8 again and struggling with feelings for a boy who could care less. I tried to prepare Kirtley for the possibility that Walter's reaction would be something on the order of "all girls are dumb." She would see him the next day at soccer practice and we went over all the possibilities. Then she decided she would seek her father's point of view since he had been a little boy once. That night I lay in bed and cried. What would she do in adolescence if I died? I had had a miserable time with insecurities, and it was a terrible time for my mother, who was struggling with family dynamics that made her emotionally absent. When will these episodes end? When will I stop thinking I won't be here? When?Looking back now, I don't know when they ended. But I do know that the fear of leaving her was one of cancer's gifts to me as a mother. I will never be like the other mothers who lament not being more present for their children as their childhood flew by. Cancer taught me when she was only 1 that it could go away very quickly so I treasured every moment. I was a very present mother.Today she is 27 and living in New York City. We talk a lot.

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