Monday, June 20, 2011

7 Things I've Learned from Breast Cancer

Three months ago, I thought about cancer maybe once a day--usually when I heard a news report or prayed for someone.  When I made an appointment for my routine screening mammogram, I hardly considered the possibility that a problem might be found.
Image: Ambro /
Since the beginning of April, I've had a biopsy, a diagnosis (stage 0 breast cancer), and surgery.  Now I'm getting ready to start radiation therapy.  (If you've been following this journey, the "new" calcifications don't indicate a problem, and I'm cleared to proceed with radiation oncology.)  These three months have been a time of learning and discovering, of new experiences and new emotions, of steps forward and steps backward.

One day last week--while I was in a doctor's waiting room--I had some time to ponder all of this.  I realized that this experience, so far, has been almost as positive as negative.  These are some of my observations:
  1. Hospital gowns should come with instructions.  In these few months I've worn gowns that tied in the front, tied in the back, tied on the inside, tied on the outside, and didn't tie at all.  Some were full gowns and some just tops.  Some cross over and some overlap completely.  Sometimes I want to look around, because the gowns are so confusing that it must be part of a hidden-camera show.
  2. With all of the appointments I've had in the past couple of weeks, I've been reminded of how much I treasure lazy days at home.  We won't have many of those this summer, but I will treasure the ones we have.
  3. As much as I try to do everything, as much as I like to be the one who helps and encourages, I've learned that it's okay to accept help.  I'm grateful for the prayers, cards, hugs, email messages, phone calls, words of encouragement, and offers of help that I've received.  For the weeks of my radiation treatments, I've resolved to simplify my responsibilities and to accept help when it's offered.
  4. Butterfly Tattoophoto © 2007 Tommy Wong | more info (via: Wylio)
  5. After getting my first three pinpoint tattoos, I've reconfirmed that I don't ever want a tattoo, unless it's the rub-on transfer type.  I was joking with the tech that I wanted my tattoos to be hearts, moons, stars, and clovers:  although lucky charms may not help, they can't hurt.  When I started to think more about the idea of injecting ink into my skin, I decided to go with the more subtle, classic dots.
  6. I laughed out loud when I realized that I'd had two consecutive days with appointments for which I didn't have to change out of my clothes!  It's good to appreciate the little gifts.
  7. We live in a part of the country where people often seem to be too busy to be nice.  When we go into a store, we're as likely to be grunted or growled at as to be greeted pleasantly.  Yet in the past few months I've met more than a few people who have shown amazing compassion and who have gone out of their way to help me.  As corny as it sounds, I have a renewed hope that nice people exist--even outside of my family, friends, and church.
  8. As a compulsive planner, I've had to let go of some control.  Don't get me wrong:  I've known for a while that my life is not my own, and control of it is out of my hands.  It's nerve-wracking for me to know that I can't make my Thursday appointment until Wednesday afternoon--but I'm learning to accept that.  More than ever before, I'm learning to take one day at a time and trust God to work out the details.
Image: Michal Marcol /
What have you learned during the most challenging times of your life?


  1. Oh, thank you so much for sharing these, Melissa! Such rich lessons.

    One of the things I've learned from suffering is "This too shall pass." God and his love is the only constant, the only unchanging thing.

  2. What a lovely, encouraging, and entertaining reflection!

  3. Great list Melissa. Glad you are upbeat and sharing those positives. I don't know if I would be. I think even through our worst times, we can still see God's hand in all of it...hoping it brings you much comfort.

  4. Thanks for the updates and little lessons.

    Hospital gowns are truly a puzzle...

  5. what an awesome post!!!!
    been thinking about you, so glad to be able to stop over and see how you are doing!

  6. I laughed about the hospital gowns--seriously, sometimes I wonder why they even bother!

    Such a tough row to hoe lately--thoughts and prayers, friend!

  7. I laughed about the hospital gowns too :) I wish you could have seen my son's face when he was told he had to put on a gown that didn't close in the back. He thought it was a joke lol
    The one thing cancer does is make you look at like from a completely different view point. Glad you are finding the positive in this. I was just thinking about you today as well :)

  8. Melissa,
    I recently started following your blog and was then away for some time because of a family emergency. I didn't realize you've been diagnosed with breast cancer. I have a history of this in my family, and I'm so sorry to hear that you are walking through this valley, though I know God will bring glory to Himself through this and pour out His abundant mercies on you.

    Your list is wonderful....full of humor and thoughtfulness. I'll be praying for you. Thank you for the opportunity to do that.

  9. How in the world did I miss this post? It's beautifully written. Thoughtful, causing thought and realization and thankful for you sharing a difficult time in your life.

    I think my most challenging times has been health issues and running neck and neck with that was being eight months pregnant, separated from my husband and ultimately divorcing. And, as we've talked about, I've also learned to take one day at a time. I like to be in control and uber planned. Letting go is difficult, but often necessary.


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