Memoir, Personal, Relationships

How to Survive Breast Cancer

If you’re a loyal reader of my blog, you know I can’t let October slip by without mentioning breast cancer.

It has to be done.

It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month and everything is pink.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month (Photo credit: Deepatheawesome)


Yesterday I went to my favorite bookstore in Buxton, N.C. and talked to my favorite bookstore owner, Gee Gee.

She calls me her “sister” because we share a history of breast cancer.

It’s good to talk to other breast cancer survivors. It helps me feel normal.

Let me clarify.

It makes me feel normal in my abnormalities.

If I’ve learned anything from Gee Gee and others, it’s that breast cancer is never really over. Yes, the treatments and surgeries can recede into the past but the scars stay forever.

“Sometimes I feel like I don’t know myself anymore,” I told her yesterday. She nodded her head, fully understanding what I meant.

“Have you read Alice Hoffman’s book about how to survive breast cancer?”


I didn’t even know Alice Hoffman had breast cancer. Apparently she kept it a secret, at least to her reading “public.”

Gee Gee sold me the book at her cost. “My gift to you. You have to have it,” she said.

Gee Gee is a wisp of a woman, about 60 years old, addicted to reading, the sun, and bikinis. She swears she’ll wear a bikini until the day she dies, which won’t be for a long time, because she’s fiercely determined to live.

I brought the book home and read it immediately out on the deck while Doug and his handyman friend, Burt, tried to figure out how to get the fireplace ready for the winter.


Hoffman’s survival tips are a little different from mine, so, I decided to share my own:

  1. Pray. Pray like your life depends on it because it does. Accept the prayers of others and believe they are being heard. Just believing that God hears your prayers and the heartfelt prayers of all your friends and family on your behalf breathes hope into your distraught soul.
  2. Read, study, and cleave to inspiring words. I read the Doctrine and Covenants, one of my church’s books of scripture. It gave me prescriptions for survival and helped me learn how to endure well, and how to feel God near me. I held tight to words like these:”For I will go before [you]. I will be on your right hand and on your left and my Spirit shall be in your hearts, and mine angels round about you, to bear you up.”
  3. Let people help you in their own unique, wonderful, generous ways. And, see deep into their caring compassionate hearts and be grateful. The outpouring of love and support is life-sustaining.
  4. Ask for help. Realize that there is no quick or easy way out and you will only get through it by asking for help when you need it. I remember when my friend Cindy took Sara and I shopping for Sara’s Homecoming dress. I spent most of the time running into the bathroom because I was so sick while Cindy helped Sara. I never could have made that shopping trip without her.
  5. Have a vision to propel you forward. For me, I envisioned myself at the beach with my family. In the worst moments, I held on to that vision. I imagined the smell of the ocean, the sunshine on my skin, some soft hair starting to grow back on my head, and being out of the chemo fog, fully enjoying my beautiful daughters and sweet husband. My friends supported my vision by giving me beach gifts after every treatment. I came home to find flip-flops one week, a beach bag the next, books, and more to help me keep my vision clear in my mind.
  6. Listen to music that soothes your weary soul.
  7. Cry — loud and hard; and pound your fists on the bed to get out your anger and fear. Then, pray and ask God to carry your burden for a while.
  8. Get outside and move your body. Even if you can only walk to the mailbox, do it. Feel the sun bathe your tender, sore skin, and put one foot in front of the other.  Remind yourself you will not always feel like you are curled up in a tight ball.
  9. Decide what’s important. After a cancer diagnosis, your world suddenly narrows and you can only do what is essential. For me, if I could only do one thing a day, I wanted to go to Annie’s soccer game or voice recital or Sara’s cheerleading competition.  And I wanted to make dinner and eat with my family every night. That’s it. No time or strength for anything else. I watched a lot of Rachel Ray and made many 30-minute meals.
  10. Every time someone asks how you’re doing, say “Great!” Even if they look at you like they don’t recognize you because your face is so puffy and your skins looks jaundice or they see painful sores all over your arms and hands, just smile and act like you are fine. It’s the “fake it til you make it” philosophy, and it works.

If these don’t work, visit Gee Gee at the bookstore. She’ll lead you to a great book, call you her sister, and make you feel like she understands exactly what you’re going through. Or pick up Alice Hoffman’s book “Survival Lessons.”


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