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For anyone who’s been diagnosed with breast cancer—or knows someone who has—this week’s news that after 25 years, Olivia Newton-John’s breast cancer has recurred is devastating. There goes the myth that after five years you’re cured, although most of us who’ve had breast cancer know we can never use the word “cure.” The correct term is NED. No evidence of disease.

NED is like living with a landmine in your body, wondering if, and when, something will trigger it.

A few weeks ago one of my girlfriends was diagnosed with breast cancer. We belong to a small, tight-knit group of eight women who started meeting 13 years ago, the week after I was diagnosed with breast cancer. My friend must go through surgery, chemo and radiation. Statistics show one in every eight women—who live to age 85—will be diagnosed with breast cancer. I was hoping I would be that one woman in our group, but it didn’t work out that way. Now there are two of us out of eight women.

Just because you’ve made it to the age you are now doesn’t mean you’ve sidestepped breast cancer. As you age, don’t get complacent about mammograms and breast self-exams.

Cancer wasn’t a “gift,” as I once thought, but it was one of my greatest teachers. Aside from giving me an up close and personal insight into my mortality, cancer strengthened my relationship with God. It made me realize that while I’d never have the mother I wanted, I could be the daughter she needed, and it helped me prioritize the things that mattered most in life. Cancer made me more compassionate. It made me cry over something as simple as an apple pie, and it made me determined to live my life out loud, preferably with music.

Since none of us know how the rest of our years will unfold, regardless of whether you’ve been diagnosed with anything more serious than the flu, please promise yourself you will:

  • Eat pie
  • Postpone death by living
  • Extend a hand to someone else
  • Dance whether anyone’s looking or not
  • Put yourself out there in ways that make you uncomfortable
  • Get to know God

My girlfriend already does these things better than most anyone I know. I suspect Olivia Newton-John does as well. They’re both in my prayers and the prayers of those who love them.

Oh yes! Number seven… Grab life by the handfuls, and don’t worry about being neat. Life is messy!

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  1. There are so many untended feelings of grief that never register, don’t make the radar. Saw the news about ONJ. Didn’t consider what it meant to others in breast cancer remission. Thank you, in grace, for sharing your sorrow & fears.

    A client, last month, mentioned something her grown daughter had done with her business. Impressed I mentioned 2 of my girlfriends that think similar. I see that thinking and don’t have it, but see it most often in men. Don’t want to be sexist, in the least, just a personal observation from my own life. Nattered all this to my client. She looked me straight in the face with big tears streaming down her face.

    Her daughter was born a boy, and much later had a sex change operation. My client, smiling thru the tears saying how she adores/loves her daughter, but so deeply grieves for the little boy she raised. After saying this the tears truly began to fall. Hugged her a long time, thanking her for opening my eyes to a grief I never realized was there. How else to know to pray, unless others share these, hidden grief’s.

    My type of ‘thinking’? Always questioning, always learning. Adoring epiphanies, and appreciating deep core sharing. Not afraid of operating on long ribbons of time, yet zero fear to pull a trigger for action. Am the weirdo who truly likes other people’s vacation pictures/stories, I may never get to their destinations, want to know, know, know all about it !

    Thank you for adding a new arrow to my quiver today. This arrow potent. Taken from your own flesh.

    Garden & Be Well, XO T

    • Tara, You’re a woman who cares deeply and isn’t afraid “to go there” with someone who needs a friendly ear, and you’re right… How can we know how to help unless we know the backstory. Since many people aren’t comfortable with opening up, perhaps our best option is just to say a silent prayer because God knows what they need, even when they don’t know themselves. xoxox, Brenda

  2. Great post, Brenda. Your wise words will inspire anyone battling chronic illness as well as those people fighting cancer.

  3. So sorry to hear about ONJ’s cancer returning after 25 years. Damn! I kept thinking that my dear friend Gail would be the one who beat it, after 4 years of NED. But it returned with a vengeance around Thanksgiving, and all I could do was be there for her…make her laugh, watch “our show” together (The Affair), and pray, pray, pray. I was with her when she passed and it was peaceful for her. But those that loved her are left with a huge hole in our lives. Prayers for your friend, Brenda.

    • Thank you, Val, for being brave enough to stand with her when she needed you most. There are so many people who are uncomfortable with that and don’t know what to do. We should all be so blessed to have a friend like you. xoxox, Brenda

  4. I am grateful it hasn’t touched me personally but, it has many of my nearest and dearest. My daughter-in-law took the best approach to her breast cancer I had ever seen and turned it into a business to help others stay positive through the process. It’s and it’s worth a look. I’m so proud of the success she’s had with her new venture while still keeping her day job and raising a rambunctious 6-year-old.
    Always look on the positive side. It does help.

  5. Cancer hasn’t touched my body up to now, but it has touched me in so many ways through friends and family. Some have passed. Some have been NED for years and years. What a heartfelt post. My best friend is a breast cancer survivor and a high school friend was just diagnosed in the last month. She will have her surgery on Monday. I’ll be thinking of her.

    • There isn’t a soul on the planet who hasn’t been touched by cancer in some way. A high school friend was diagnosed with a malignant brain tumor. Just saw him two weeks ago, and he seemed fine. A few days later he had trouble walking and talking. It was the size of a baseball, and the surgery caused a massive stroke. I’m devastated for him and his family. I hope your friend’s surgery went well, Alana. xoxox, Brenda

    • We all do I think. It’s something we live with. The trick is to go on with your life and not give it a second thought! Easier said than done, but it can be done.

  6. Your advice couldn’t have come at a better time. When an unwanted diagnosis knocks you flat, by the time you scramble to get back up, you are already different, all the neurons in your body shifting and nudging and shoving. This advice helps in that world of fast and furious change. Many thanks and many prayers.

    • I hope all is well with you and yours… You’re so right. By the time you get the diagnosis, everything is different. Your body is fighting a war and now your mind and emotions are as well. I always, always suggest–strongly–Belleruth Naperstek’s Guided Imagery audios. She’s highly respected and you can download them onto your phone, iPad, etc. Even if you’re stressed, her audios make a huge difference in how you cope. BTW, the military uses her PTSD audios for returning soldiers. xoxox, Brenda

      • I did as well, Audrey. I’m devastated for Olivia Newton-John and all who love her, and I’m devastated for all of us in the breast cancer community. We hang on to examples like Ms. Newton-John as proof we can indeed beat cancer. Thanks for your comment, Audrey. Have you had breast cancer? Brenda

    • After my husband died unexpectedly, Christmas Day, I decided I’d been worrying about the wrong things. I let go of my worry about recurrence and am more concerned with living my life. Harder said than done, I know, but I was rudely shaken into that conclusion. Instead of worrying about dying, see if you can enjoy living! Brenda

    • Kathryn, It’s difficult not to wonder and worry, isn’t it? I worried all the time until my husband died, unexpectedly, on Christmas. Then I realized I’d been worrying about all the wrong things. What if we live to be really old women and died for another reason? I’m betting one of the things we wished we could have done differently was to let the breast cancer worry go. I hope you can find a way to do that. It’s very freeing. Brenda

  7. I am so sorry about your friend Brenda. My sister-in-law is the latest to be diagnosed in our family. She made it 4 3/4 years and now it’s in her bones. I really thought Olivia Newton John had made it. So damn sad.

  8. Brenda, this is so touching. I really appreciate you sharing your feelings with us. I tend to get caught up in the unimportant things sometimes and it’s always good to be reminded of all the good in our lives and to not waste a day or a moment. And, I’m with you on the music thing and dancing – two of my favorite things to do!! How was the Stones concert by the way? XOXO


    • I’m glad you dance and listen to music! It’s great medicine for what ails you, or just to celebrate the moment. The Stones’s concert isn’t until September, in Italy. As always when I get a chance to see the guys, I’m excited. They’ve been a major part of my life since I was 12. They’re like family! xoxox, Brenda

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