I was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1998 at 45 years old.

It was a shock and I was terrified. I had a 12 year old daughter to raise, a son who was about to begin his freshman year in college and my husband had just started a new job. I was afraid I would die. I was then reassured that a lumpectomy would take care of my cancer with some additional radiation. After my initial surgery it was discovered that the cancer had spread to 11 of my lymph nodes. I became even more fearful. With the help of my husband and the doctors, I pursued a full year of very aggressive treatment, including a stem cell transplant. Support, encouragement and love poured in from family and friends. There were people who contacted me who I never even knew cared!

I believe that all of this attention helped to get me through that year.  One friend said, “As a social worker you have always helped people. Now it’s time to be your own social worker.”  Another survivor friend recommended, “People want to help, and you need help. So take it!”

I had always prided myself in my independence. I learned to accept help, and to also allow all that love and caring to pour into me. That was very healing. (I actually went through withdrawal from the attention after I got well.)  My strategy for getting through that year was to break down each form of treatment into small chunks. First, a mastectomy, then each chemo followed by a stem cell transplant, and finally radiation. It was not easy, but I also learned to slow down. I remember sitting on my front porch one day and watching the birds fly from one tree to another for about an hour. It was beautiful! When the year of treatment was over, the world looked sparkling and gorgeous to me. That was a “high” I never could have imagined.

Obviously I survived, and I am almost 23 years out from diagnosis. Though I do not believe in “the gift of cancer”, (it can be brutal, painful and exhausting) there were some learnings from that experience. I confess that I’m back to stressing about my constant “to do” list and work before play. But I do remind myself that it’s ok to stop and read a book or go for a walk or watch the birds now and then.

Pamela offered me strategies for observing others’ behavior non-judgmentally, without interpreting or taking things personally.

Pamela encouraged me to find the courage to be with my feelings of sadness, fear and anger in the midst of conflict. It’s a tool she teaches called, “Know Your ABC’s,” which is awareness of our behavior & feelings on a continuum.

I learned to bravely and kindly stand up for myself at times. Still working on that!