I Am Not My Breast Cancer: Women Talk Openly about Love and Sex, Hair Loss and Weight Gain, Mothers and Daughters, and Being a Woman with Breast Cancerby Ruth Peltason
I Am Not My Breast Cancer" gathers the warm, loving, frank, and informed voices of more than eight hundred womenfrom every state in the nation and from continents as far away as Australia and Africawho reveal their fears, trade advice, share experiences, and express their deepest, most intimate concerns. Essential reading for any woman with this… See more details below
I Am Not My Breast Cancer" gathers the warm, loving, frank, and informed voices of more than eight hundred womenfrom every state in the nation and from continents as far away as Australia and Africawho reveal their fears, trade advice, share experiences, and express their deepest, most intimate concerns. Essential reading for any woman with this diagnosis, it offers the companionship of other women dealing with this disease. Taking the reader chronologically through the stages of diagnosis, treatment, recovery, and self-discovery, "I Am Not My Breast Cancer" offers women a deeper understanding of themselves and living with cancer.
Peltason, an editor and breast cancer survivor, founded and hosted the "First Person Plural" Web site project, an online forum for women facing the disease. Their dialogue provides the content for this book, culled from the entries of 800 women across the U.S. and around the world. Peltason organizes the material into three general parts: "Diagnosis," "Living with Breast Cancer" and "The Big Picture," with such subtopics as "Sharing the News," "Being Womanly" and "Anniversaries and Milestones." Participants use screen names for privacy, approaching their disease with candor and freely discussing their feelings about their bodies and their relationships. At times, those overcome by anger and fear far outweigh those with a bright outlook, but when these survivors "look in the mirror" at the conclusion of the text, many envision a hopeful future. Perhaps the most poignant entries are from younger women, some of whom have been driven into early menopause and infertility by chemotherapy. Although this is an informative book, some survivors may discover that these raw entries churn up disturbing emotions; others will find comfort in these voices, and in the knowledge that they aren't alone-either in their sorrow or in their strength and courage. (Feb.)Copyright 2007 Reed Business Information
"A moving and comforting book.... Consumer health libraries looking to develop psychological-support literature should definitely consider." (Xpress Reviews, 1/22/08;
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I Am Not My Breast Cancer
Women Talk Openly About Love and Sex, Hair Loss and Weight Gain, Mothers and Daughters, and Being a Woman with Breast Cancer
Sharing the News
"How do you tell your family news you can barely comprehend yourself?"
There was nothing laudable about how I learned that I had breast cancer: the surgeon who performed the biopsy literally said, "I'm so surprised. You have a malignancy," as I was walking into his office and before I'd even closed the door. Welcome to my world. I had just turned thirty-five. (Ironically, I had been humming an old Streisand tune "Happy Days Are Here Again" on my way to the doctor's office—indeed!) In the couple of seconds it took this doctor to speak, my life was forever changed. That was also the last time I ever heard an ill-spoken word from a doctor and marked the first time I took my care into my own hands—I changed surgeons and have been happy ever since. But back to that day: after the appointment I went to my office and called one of my best friends. Without skipping a beat, she came immediately—we cried, and then I left the office without saying a word and took off the rest of the afternoon. I remember we went out for lunch.
To this day, however, I still can't recall the specifics of calling my parents in St. Louis to tell them I had breast cancer. For one thing, I remembered that my mother's brother died at the age of fifty-four from bone cancer and that my grandparents felt a lifelong sadness because of that. Was I going to die before my parents, too? Weren't children supposed to outlivetheir parents? My father's response was simple and direct: "Come home" and be treated there; I was already very uncomfortable having the discussion, but I stood my ground, saying that I felt the best doctors were in New York. What else? I'm sure they asked questions; I'm sure I tried to answer those I could.
Jump ahead twelve years. I had a recurrence and this time the stakes were higher. And by this time my father had passed away. Again, I called that same best friend. Maybe she called my mother; maybe I called my brothers. Maybe some variation on this occurred. It was not a happy time, and I was weirdly calm, in that calm-before-the-storm sort of way. As for my friends and colleagues: I think the news trickled out, on a need-to-know basis. Memory, as I have learned, can be an unreliable witness.
Sharing this kind of news is an active process fraught with emotion. As a sign of modern technology, often the most efficient (and least stressful) way to communicate is by e-mail, typically with the so-called calmest family member designated as "sender." Understandably, the following accounts detail highly charged experiences. And while the conditions are similar—the women have just learned they have breast cancer—their stories are unique.
I just wished my mom wasn't by herself when she was told. She lost her husband of 48 years to cancer and then me getting it was like a nightmare. I can only imagine what she is feeling, but I know how horrible it would feel if one of my children were diagnosed with any kind of cancer. My youngest daughter came to see me later that evening and as soon as I saw her I started to cry and told her I have never even flown a kite so I was going to fight this with all I could. She assumed the role of mother and was there during my emotional outbursts and helped me to gain my composure.
My mother-in-law cried every time I talked to her. That was very upsetting for me. I felt I had to comfort her instead of the other way around.
I had to tell my parents over the phone as they were on vacation and that was so hard. It makes you cry twice, because you have to all cry again when you see each other.
My husband was a seven-hour drive away on maneuvers with his Air National Guard unit. I got him on his cell phone and told him that I might have cancer and to stand pat. I might need to have the Red Cross bring him home. (My wonderful husband was by my side a day later.) My parents were local. They were out of the house and on the way to the doctor's office within 5 minutes and we all waited for me to go in to have the ultrasound.
I so didn't want to scare them, but I was scared and needed my mommy and daddy there. When the results of the ultrasound showed positive for cancer, we had a group hug and they held me as I cried. Then I held my mom as she cried—her mom had died of breast cancer and she always taught me to be vigilant in preventive measures. My eyes met my dad's and I became resolute that I would beat this. He'd been through too many tragedies in his life—he lost his whole family in the gas chambers of Treblinka. I would not have him lose a child. That was simply not an option.
Since my sister had died from breast cancer in 1986 at age 43, my husband had been secretly waiting for "the other shoe to drop." My husband, who is very protective of me and has been my soul mate for the last 33 years, assumed the job of the "teller." He broke the news to our sons, which was so difficult for him. My close girlfriends, who are like family to me, took the news so very hard. They were with me through my sister's horrific illness and they saw what it did to me. They were not sure I was strong enough mentally to make it through the same horrendous treatment again. But, I guess I found out that I'm stronger than anybody thought I was. Now, 5½ years later, my doctors tell me that I am well and healthy. I am truly a lucky girl.
Women Talk Openly About Love and Sex, Hair Loss and Weight Gain, Mothers and Daughters, and Being a Woman with Breast Cancer. Copyright © by Ruth Peltason. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.
Meet the Author
Ruth Peltason runs Bespoke Books, a small book producing company that specializes in books on the cultural arts, including Elizabeth Taylor: My Love Affair with Jewelry, Kate Spade's Occasions, Style, and Manners. I Am Not My Breast Cancer grew out of the author's passion to wed her skills as a book editor and her own experiences with breast cancer. She was previously senior editor, director of design and style books with Harry N. Abrams, Inc., Publishers, and lives in New York City.
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