From Chapter 2: Breast cancer is not your fault
No-one knows what causes breast cancer. We know that certain faulty genes increase the risk of getting breast cancer, but not everyone who carries the fault will get the disease. Nor will every woman who had her first child after she was thirty, every woman who is stressed, keeps her emotions bottled up, drinks more than eight standard alcoholic drinks a week or has a poor diet.
All of these factors and many more besides may influence the development of breast cancer. With the right research, someone could probably present convincing evidence suggesting that women who listened to the Beatles are more likely to develop breast cancer.
My grandmother and my maternal aunt both had breast cancer when they were relatively young, which suggested there might be a genetic link. After my treatment I had a blood test which showed that I am, indeed, carrying a faulty BRCA2 gene. That still doesn't explain why I went on to develop cancer when others with the mutation don’t.
It could have been because I have, at various times of my life, drunk far too much, smoked like a chimney and lived on chocolate. It could have been because I had all four of my children in my thirties, or because I was nurturing some deep and unrecognised resentment. It could have been all or none of these things. It doesn’t matter. There’s nothing I can do to change my past. What matters is what I do now to manage my future.
From Chapter 3: You don't need a medical degree to survive
It used to be that all doctors were treated with absolute deference. No patient would have presumed to question his (it was rarely a ‘her’) diagnosis or treatment. If he told us we were simply being a hypochondriac, we believed him. If he told us we had a month to live, we believed that, too – and we may well have been obedient enough to live or die accordingly!
These days, few of us would be willing to play the role of helpless bystander in our own lives. However, there are some women who feel that the pendulum has swung too far in the opposite direction – that they are now expected to carry an unwelcome weight of medical responsibility.
Many books and websites dealing with breast cancer advocate gathering as much information as possible. Some women do exactly this and feel enormously reassured when they can understand and comment on every detail of their diagnosis and treatment. But this depth of knowledge isn’t compulsory. For some people, too much information can be confusing and frightening, especially at a time when shock can make the instructions for making instant coffee seem like incomprehensible gibberish.
When you have faith in the people who will be taking care of you there’s no need to feel embarrassed about accepting their opinion.
From Chapter 12: Helping yourself to feel better
It sounds logical to expect that everyday problems will pale into insignificance when cancer comes into your life. This may be true of the minor ones – whether to holiday in at home or overseas, whether your child should learn violin or piano – but, unfortunately, the big ones can be stubbornly persistent.
Once the news that I had cancer had sunk in I thought I would start to see life differently. I waited for colours to look brighter, flowers to smell sweeter and my troubles to fade into the background as I suddenly started to cherish every second I was alive.
It didn’t happen.
At the time I was a single mother with four children aged between nine and 16. Two of them had major and ongoing health problems.
As my ex-husband helped me to run my business I had six people to support, yet my finances were totally out of control. I had debts, no assets and a mounting tax problem. As I was freelance, my income was unpredictable and I was living from cheque to cheque, constantly having to chase money to pay my bills.
I’m sure I don’t need to mention that I had no trauma or income protection insurance.
I was living in a rented house, and this was in an area I hated. My home was in a constant state of chaos. I seemed to do be doing nothing but lurch from crisis to crisis. Cancer felt like the final straw.
It didn’t help that I kept on hearing about the power of a positive attitude to help me to feel better, and perhaps even to get better. Where was someone who had been struggling with depression for years, and who was already taking antidepressants, going to find the right state of mind for coping with cancer?
From Chapter 14: When things go wrong
The idea that you can think yourself into feeling better and creating the life you want for yourself is incredibly empowering – most of the time. But what about when things are going wrong?
When I was first starting to believe I had the power to forge a better future, bouts of anxiety or depression became doubly stressful. The bad feeling associated with the emotion itself was compounded by the fear that I was failing to maintain the ‘correct’ frame of mind. The pressure to stay positive and cheerful was almost unbearable.
It took me a while – and my counsellor’s help – to accept that there’s a difference between having a good attitude and being happy all the time.
No-one’s life is endlessly perfect. We are all bound to feel fear, anxiety and stress and only the certifiably insane would laugh and smile their way through disappointment, money worries, children’s problems, emotional trauma or any other of the issues that inevitably arise in our lives from time to time.
We have to accept that there are some events we simply can’t control. However, we can choose how we react to them. We can’t stop it from being our birthday, but we can choose whether to look forward to a great opportunity for a happy celebration or sink into depression because we’re a year older.