Saturday, 19 March 2011

The Benefits of Having Breast Cancer

The benefits of breast cancer ??? Am I crazy to even consider such a premise ?  How can a disease which potentially threatens to take away a woman's breasts and ultimately her life ever have rewards ? (and I don't mean just financial ones...)

Amongst the well-meaning reading matter that I've received since diagnosis (which has invariably included everything from gossip mags to 'embracing uncertainty' self-help books) one book in particular has stood out.
Getting Well Again was written in 1978 by a psychologist and oncologist husband and wife team and is now considered as something of a bible among the mind-body psychotherapists and alternative medicine practitioners. If you can endure the the first couple of chapters, which tend to wallow in the mire of outdated theories surrounding a 'cancer personality', you'll come across an interesting chapter that looks at the benefits of illness.

These benefits include some obvious things like not being at work (or more importantly, not feeling guilty about being at work) and forging closer relationships with loved ones who will often surround you with a lot more love than they previously had. But also included are more significant ideas like learning how to really relax for the first time in your life, how to set goals in the face of a life-threatening illness and how to let go of past hurts and resentments. I know that it's all starting to sound suspiciously like to a self-help book, but in the face of the uncertainty that comes with a diagnosis of cancer, it sometimes feels as though you're having to start from scratch anyway. In my own case, I often wonder how a first-time mother with breast cancer can look at her child and think of their future without feeling anxiety and fear for the possible lack of her own ?  But we can't spend our days always grappling with deep philiosophical questions. Sometimes it's okay to feel smug that you're not part of the rat race at the moment. However weird it may seem, by adopting a 'well at least now I don't have to...' outlook is often a good way of living in the present and keeping those moody blues away from one's door.

So how has having breast cancer benefitted me ? Well, apart from the obvious - which is, I've been able to spend more time at home with my baby and watch him develop every day before my very eyes, I've also realised that every couple of minutes, or hours or days, someone thinks about you. You might not know this, but they do.

The big difference when you're diagnosed with cancer is that instead of being an abstract thought in that person's mind, you actually hear from them. Sometimes it's a phone-call, other times an e-mail, another time it's just a short text. But it's nice. It feels lovely to know that half way around the globe, someone's remembering me. In our increasingly isolated metropolitan lives, it dispels the idea that we're all becoming more and more disconnected from each other.

I always make an effort these days to respond to every text, phone-call and e-mail as soon as possible. This is partly out of respect but mostly because I want the person to know that somewhere, maybe even halfway around the globe, I'm remembering them too.

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