Two years later, I too received a diagnosis of breast cancer.1
After my diagnosis I went for consultations with two oncologists. Each doctor handed me two pieces of paper displaying bar graphs of the risk of my cancer returning and the risk that I would die from my cancer. These risks were broken down and calculated for four separate conditions: 1) if I did nothing, 2) if I received chemotherapy, 3) if I received hormonal therapy, and 4) if I received “combined” therapy (chemotherapy + hormonal therapy). On the top of the stark white pieces of paper in my doctor’s writing it says “Survival” on one and “Recurrence” on the other.
I made my decision rather easily: to treat my Stage II cancer I opted for a double mastectomy2, chemotherapy, and adjuvant hormonal therapy3. I had a husband and three young children; I wasn’t taking any chances– I would do whatever it took to get me into remission and give me the best possible chance of survival.
My mother, because of the particulars of her Stage III cancer opted for a lumpectomy, radiation, and chemotherapy.4
And so, my mother and I had different treatment plans. But while our treatment protocols differed, we both required the same character trait to get us through: resilience. Appropriately, this is also the title of Elizabeth Edwards’s book.
Resilience has carried me through my mother’s diagnosis and mine. My son Tristan’s surgeries and treatments for congenital spine and hand deformities. The sudden death of my beloved mother-in-law in a car crash one year ago.
Resilience is the ability to bounce back, the ability to find strength and reserves when you think there are none, the guts to wake up each morning and, knowing something else might be just around the corner, say, “Okay, world, bring it on. I can take it.”
It’s also the manner in which you take it. Do you feel defeated? Resigned? Depressed? Angry? Do you channel those negative emotions into something positive?
Some people believe that negative things like cancer and grief are gifts. Books I’ve seen preach that you should change your thinking: these events are not traumas or tragedies; they are gifts, positive intrusions into your life.
I don’t think so.
I don’t think cancer is a gift.
I don’t think grief is an opportunity.
I think these things suck.
I think they hurt.
There’s a difference between thought and action: what you do with those feelings is what counts.
People don’t need to have the same beliefs or think the same way to feel a magnetic pull to one another.
Resilience is like a magnetic pull to life, a force that keeps me coming back for more
Resilience whispers in my ear,
“You can do it.
Just keep going.
One foot in front of the other.
It will get better.
And, if it doesn’t, well…
you can take it.
Bring it on.”
Elizabeth Edwards reached many people because she was in the public eye, but inspirational people also live quiet lives. We can be inspired by Edwards’s grace and courage as she dealt with the challenging parts of her life in the same way we can find inspirational people around us each and every day. These are all people we can connect with and learn from. In doing so, we better ourselves. In doing that, we honor their struggle.
My mother is alive, and in remission. And the joy that I feel about having my own mother here is shared in equal measure by the sorrow I feel for Ms. Edwards’s three living children, Catharine, Emma Claire, and Jack, over the loss of their mother.5
- genetic testing later showed I do not carry the BRCA-1 or BRCA-2 genetic mutation [↩]
- I also opted for recontruction with silicone implants [↩]
- first, Tamoxifen, then later, after surgical removal of my ovaries and Fallopian tubes, Arimidex [↩]
- because her cancer was HER-2 Neu positive she also received Herceptin [↩]
- her 4th child, Wade, died in a car crash in 1996 [↩]