Something to Hold on to During Cancer


The night before my mastectomy, I had a dream about my grandmother who died of breast cancer, which gave me hope throughout the frightening process.

cartoon drawing of blogger and breast cancer survivor, Stephanie Landon

My grandmother died of breast cancer a few months before I got married. It was devastating. Not because it was just before my wedding, but because I adored her immeasurably. She was smart and funny with a cackling laugh that was infectious. She was beautiful and classy, but cursed like a sailor and cracked her gum with no shame. She was generous and thoughtful, and I always thought of her as being so strong. But when it came to her breast cancer, it turns out, she sadly didn’t have a lot of strength.

What I learned after she died was that her doctors had recommended that she have a doublemastectomy and she refused. My father, in relaying this information to me, explained that she was very afraid.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer about 12 years after her death, I felt afraid too. Unlike my grandmother, when my oncologist told me I had no choice but to have a double mastectomy due to my cancer being very aggressive, I did not hesitate. Of course, I felt fear — of the surgery itself, my recovery, how my body would heal and look, and what my prognosis would be, post-op.

The night before my surgery, I dreamt of my grandmother. I was in an ancient stone castle, where I was supposed to meet her. I walked through dark, stone halls, lined with heavy, wooden doors, my footsteps echoing on the cold, stone floors. I was looking for her. I reached a massive door at the end of the hall and pushed it open. The room was circular, also stone, with small windows along the top of the walls that reached some 50 feet high.

In the middle of the room, there was a figure whose back was to me, clad in a long, black cloak. When the figure turned, it was not my grandmother, but an old man whom I did not recognize. He said to me, “Your grandmother couldn’t make it.” He stepped toward me, reaching inside his cloak. “She wanted me to give you this,” he continued, handing me a folded piece of paper. I opened the paper and on it were scribbled five words: “YOU’RE GOING TO BE FINE.”

When I woke up that morning, the morning of my surgery, I didn’t have a physical note in my hand from my grandmother, of course, but it was there, in my mind.

“You’re going to be fine.”

I replayed the dream in my head on the drive to the hospital, and again while I was being prepped for surgery; when they put the markers in my breasts, drew blood and injected dye into my nipples, I remembered it. I thought of it again post-surgery, when I couldn’t stop vomiting, when I couldn’t lift my arms, when I couldn’t hug my kids. “You’re going to be fine.”

Whatever your interpretation of that dream is — and I have gotten a lot of them, from a lot of people! — the most important thing about it for me is that it gave me something to hold on to, throughout everything. Whether it served as a convenient distraction, or an actual sense of hope, I can’t really say. It probably gave me a little of each and in the end, both of these things are exactly what I needed and probably what we all need when we’re going through procedures, treatments and everything that comes after.

I really do believe that dream helped me power through the hardest parts of my cancer journey, and on a deeper level, I believe that it was indeed my grandmother helping me get through it. Even if I concocted the scenario in my imagination, it was her — her memory, her legacy, the calming reassurance her presence always brought me. It’s been 11 years since my first surgery, and I can still remember that dream so vividly. It’s barely faded in my memory, like most dreams do. And 11 years later, I really am fine.

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