Putting Cancer In My Past


One cancer survivor looks back on how a breast cancer diagnosis divided her life into a before and after, and looks ahead to what comes next.

My diagnosis of breast cancer at age 37 divided my life into a before and after. In the years that followed, when I recalled something, it was placed in my life timeline as either before or after cancer. Thinking about mortality when we are supposed to be focused on babies, family and goals changes the way we remember things.

I think my life was impacted perhaps more significantly than some because I was one of the women who chose to stay involved in breast cancer. Not only as an advocate and volunteer in the nonprofit world of organizations serving women, but also professionally as a writer to help educate and empower women and men about breast cancer. My support group started a nonprofit to serve uninsured and underinsured women, and I began interviewing women, men and medical professionals for a book that came out in the early ‘90s.

I even got used to saying that cancer did not take my life, I gave it willingly to help educate and empower women and men.

Then a few weeks ago I was at a small group meeting when it became my turn to give one of those 30-second intros that only hits the high points.

I talked about retiring after 25 years of teaching at a local university. I said I had published two books and that my daughter was working in New York.

But I didn’t say I was a breast cancer survivor! It only took a nanosecond for me to sense my omission and I jumped back in to add it before the next person began her introduction. How could I have left it out, to begin with?

Has there come a point in my life that I don’t automatically think of breast cancer as the seminal event in my life or has breast cancer become so much who I am that it is like my hair color — obvious.

I don’t know, but when I think of myself, I know that my view of the world including hope, courage and love comes from my experience as a breast cancer survivor. Indeed, more than that breast cancer shaped me as an adult who decided to live life every day at the age of 37.

Life. It’s interesting to think about who I would be had I not had breast cancer. And I will never know.

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