Heeding the Advice of My Breast Cancer Hero

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As a breast cancer survivor, it’s not only my duty to help the newly diagnosed, but it’s also my responsibility to heed the advice of seasoned champions.

Cartoon drawing of contributor Bonnie Annis

When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer, I had no idea who to turn to for advice. The only person close to me with any experience at all was my mother-in-law who was diagnosed about seven years after my husband and I first married, but she was very private about her illness, and I respected that.

There were so many questions I needed to be answered, so I turned to the largest resource available to me at that time: social media.

I perused Facebook and came across a wonderful page run by a woman named Ann Silberman. Silberman had been diagnosed with breast cancer in 2009, five years before I’d received my diagnosis. I was excited to read her posts since we shared the same type of cancer,invasive ductal carcinoma.

Silberman had a vastly different experience with breast cancer. Instead of having both breasts removed, she only had the right one removed. She went through many rounds of chemotherapy while I chose to forego it. In 2010, she went through reconstructive surgery, while I chose not to do breast reconstruction. In 2011, her cancer metastasized to her liver, and she endured many treatments, and surgeries and soon claimed the title “metavivor.” I can’t keep up with all she’s experienced, but I can tell you she is the epitome of a breast cancer warrior.

On her blog, she is real, open, honestand sometimes unfiltered. I discovered the answers to many of my questions by reading her posts both there and on her Facebook page. She’s inspired me over and over again, most recently with the statement, “When healed, move on, sick should never be your life.” When I read those words, it was as if she was speaking directly to me. I needed that more than she’ll ever know.

Over the past few years, I’ve had one weird thing after another with my health. In each instance, I immediately thought, “Oh no! My cancer is back!” Living under that fear has been debilitating and it’s greatly affected how I’ve lived my life. The constant fear of recurrence seems to be a common thought among those who’ve been diagnosed with cancer and it’s not one that’s easy to get rid of.

Silberman’s sage advice has become my mantra. I can’t continue to live in fear. Yes, I’ll have little hiccups now and then. I might even have a big scare or two, as the most recent one where I needed to have some growths in my stomach biopsied, but I don’t have to dwell on illness. Technically, I am healed. My oncologist says I’m in remission. My last PET scan showed no evidence of disease (NED). So while I wave the NED banner high, I express gratitude to Ann for giving me a swift kick in the rear by reminding me to move on with my life.

Hopefully, I’ll be able to impart one or two words of wisdom to those who come after me and I’ll be willing to share the things I’ve learned along the way as I’ve endured treatment for breast cancer. I doubt I’ll ever have a following as large as Ms. Silberman’s though because she’s been at this for fourteen years now. In my book, that qualifies her as a superhero metavivor.

We all need heroes in our lives, people we can look up to and lean on for sound wisdom and advice. I’m thankful I found Ann through happenstance. It wasn’t mere luck, I think it was meant to be. And even though Silberman is still dealing with issues related to breast cancer, she doesn’t allow those problems to hold her back. She continues to fight.

On her Facebook page, recently talked of going to have her chemo port removed but doctors were unable to take it out. It had been in so long her body had absorbed it. I can’t begin to imagine her frustration at having to keep that constant reminder of her battle with her each day, but that experience, too, will help her help others in the future. 

Silberman is quite the anomaly. If you can’t tell, I can’t sing her praises high enough.

Survivors need mentors. We may think that after going through a bout with cancer we’ve learned all there is to learn, but we’d be sadly mistaken to think that. Now, Silberman, on the other hand, is an encyclopedia of knowledge. Her first-hand experiences will inspire and influence others for years to come.

I’ve never had the opportunity to meet Ann in person, but I will tell you this: if you reach out to her via Facebook or on her blog, she will respond. It may not be a quick response, but she always takes time to answer any question posed. I’ve enjoyed several conversations with her over the years.

“When healed move on, sick should never be your life.” Wiser words have never been spoken by a breast cancer survivor. Thank you, Ann, for being my hero.


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