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Getting Past a Diagnosis


If you’ve ever been diagnosed with a serious illness, you might feel like your body betrayed you. That’s how I felt when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I’d been the poster girl for healthy living: I ate fresh fruits and vegetables, grilled chicken, no fast food or sugar, a glass of wine here and there; lots of exercise, regular checkups and yearly mammograms. When the shock wore off, my fear turned to anger and then to depression.

“Above all, be the heroine of your life, not the victim.” Nora Ephron

I remember crying hysterically in PetSmart’s parking lot, unable to go in and buy dog food or get on the highway and drive home. It had been three months since my diagnosis, and the full impact of what it meant to have breast cancer had finally hit me. In addition to fear, depression and disbelief, I was struggling with overwhelming concepts like life, death and self-image—would my husband love me with my scars—not to mention the fear of recurrence. And then, the most amazing thing happened.

Eight days after my mastectomy, my girlfriends and I went to a Sting concert. I wore white linen and my turkey basters, the drains that dangled from rubber tubing, surgically attached to where my breast had been. Our seats were in the last row. Carrot Top could have been lip-syncing Sting songs for all we knew. As I looked around at the thousands of women in the audience, statistically I knew one out of eight would be diagnosed with breast cancer.

I studied them, women from teenagers to 60-somethings and thinking: “She has it and doesn’t know it. She’s going to have it. She’s had it.” But in that moment, I realized that life didn’t get any better than this. I had a husband who loved me; I was alive, with my two best friends since high school, singing and clapping as though my world hadn’t been condensed onto a pathology slide two inches long and three-quarters of an inch wide.

In that moment, I realized I’d crossed a bridge I never wanted to cross. One of the things I feared most had already happened. I could be angry and fearful, or I could make a conscious decision not to let my diagnosis define me. Cancer may have taken my breast, but it would not take my spirit and my will. In that moment I wanted to tell every woman there to keep singing; keep laughing; keep living; to pull from each moment the things they wanted to remember. To savor them; laugh at them and to live their lives deliberately and intentionally.

I know from experience that’s easier said than done, but when faced with that thing we fear most, we must find a way to let go of anger and fear. While we can never return to the days before a serious diagnosis, we can use it to sharpen our resolve to survive.

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12 thoughts on “Getting Past a Diagnosis”

  1. What a great outlook to have! I cannot imagine a diagnosis as scary as breast cancer and I am so glad that you are where you are today. I loved that quote by Nora Ephron. Great piece Brenda!

    • Thank you so much, Rena! Nora Ephron had such a way of cutting to the heart of the matter with humor and poignancy. I still read random chapters from her books.

    • I’ve stared other things in the face that I may never write about. One would be front page news in a heart beat, but it’s not in anyone’s best interest to tell. I’d love to talk again. I continue to be impressed with you and your site and hope we can find a way to work together. XOXO, Brenda

  2. You really are so inspirational, Brenda. Your amazing attitude and the way you just grab life by the horns is fabulous. Honestly, I’m so grateful to have ‘met’ you and to be part of the community here. It’s like I’ve found this fountain of positivity beautifully balanced with life experience! And that quote is brilliant. Essie xx

    • I should blog about all the ways I love Nora Ephron. Your brilliance fits so well with the direction we’re going with 1010ParkPlace. I’m blessed you’re here to be part of the community we’re building. Love, Brenda

  3. I’ve not experienced anything like this, but I am connected to many women who have including my daughter-in-law. It is scary for all those who love the patient, too. But, my d.i.l. had your attitude and went after it like a champ. She is clean as a whistle right now and we’re grateful, as always, for good health care. I’m so glad you’ve survived to share your inspirational words.

    • Barbara,
      We all have the ability to survive those things we fear most. For me it took faith, fortitude and family. I’m happy your daughter-in-law is doing well. Hope your son is as well. Breast cancer can be so hard on a marriage. Bless you all for being there for her. I know it’s not easy. xoxox, Brenda

  4. So far I haven’t had any terrible diagnosis but I too would be angry as I do “everything right”. But I come from a family where everyone gets cancer so it may be in my future. I hope I’ll find the resilience and rise above the despair and self-pity as you did.

    • Let’s hope you don’t get cancer… which reminds me. I don’t know what kind of cancer your family members have, but have you considered being tested to see if you carry one of the genes? It’s a simple blood test that could arm you with the information to take steps to lessen your risks of getting cancer in the first place. Knowledge really is power. Some women I’ve talked with are afraid of knowing if they carry a cancer gene, but it’s a lot easier that getting cancer.

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