This is a web site about my journey with breast cancer, and what I am learning from the experience.

I'm Fran Beslanwitch, 63, and married with no children. Our dogs Warlock and Cayote and two cats, Parker and Sabbath live with my husband Jack and me.

I have been a registered nurse since 1960. When I was in nurses' training cancer was usually incurable and death the most frequent outcome. I had not worked with cancer patients often in my career so when a mammogram discovered a shadow in my left breast I didn't know what to expect. I had a Stage I lump with no involved nodes. My treatment included lumpectomy, axillary node biopsy, radiation, and Tamoxifen. I'm five years out from that worrisome mammogram.

It is also my way with dealing with the recent passing of my mother, Genevieve. She left us at the age of 91. She had lived with us for much of the last ten years, sharing her gentle humor, love for children, dried leaves and red hair and always special personality. In the summer of 2000 she progressively lost more and more of her mobility. It was ultimately discovered that she too had breast cancer and there is some suspicion that it had metastisized to her bones. However, she had left explicit instructions that she wanted no extraordinary procedures done, including IV hydration. In October of that same year she left us surrounded by family and in her own bed here at home. She lived a long and wonderful life and shared her special gifts with all around her. I will miss her.

So far, my check-ups show no evidence of disease. Like many women whose cancers have been discovered early, I wait for the other shoe to fall. This page is my way of dealing with that uncertainty.

All I need to know in life I learned from my cancer. This was the title of my first home page and it was an attempt to lighten up and bring a touch of humor into the subject. There was a list of things I'd learned in the first part of my journey. Later I gained new perspectives into what I'd learned. At first I strongly denied the seriousness of what was happening to me. Sometimes, I still do.

The cancer is in the lab. It isn't in me. I repeated this like a mantra for weeks after my lumpectomy. Of course I knew it could recur, but this little bit of denial kept me from overwhelming my friends by telling them "I've got cancer!" as if cancer were a new toy to play with.

Know your enemy. I needed to read everything that was easily available about breast cancer. I found it in women's magazines, the newspaper, and the pamphlets in my doctor's office. Everywhere I looked, there was something about breast cancer.

It took me several weeks to do more than skim the pathologist's reports, however. It was too threatening to read the words 'carcinoma', 'infiltrating', and 'necrosis'. They scared me. Later I could read the technical material that was waiting for me to tackle.

Sometimes I got depressed when I read too much about cancer. A friend who was having chemotherapy said that he got depressed because the statistics on his kind of cancer were not encouraging. Both of us had to ration our reading according to the stability of our emotions. I've continued to read about cancer, and my reading list is on this web site.

Use your friends and family as resources. I didn't realize how frightened I was until I told a coworker who had breast cancer the year before.

"Jeanette, I have to have a biopsy…..I'm scared!" She put her arms around me. There were tears in her eyes. This instant sympathy and understanding gave me courage. I wasn't alone. She'd gone through it; so could I.

The response of a woman who has had cancer to one newly facing the possibility is universal. I've seen it on the Breast Cancer Listserv. I've felt it myself when a friend at church approached me with the news of her impending biopsy. You want to both comfort and mourn with the other person.

Have someone with you when you see the surgeon. This was Jeanette's advice. My husband was terrified about the prospect of cancer, but he insisted on going with me. As we talked to my surgeon who explained things very matter-of-factly Jack began to calm down. He became my champion through my course of treatment and after. Today he says it felt like being a leaky life raft on a stormy sea.

Prayer helps. Our religious friends prayed or sent energy my way, depending on whether they were Christian, Muslim, Jewish, or Pagan. Our uncommitted friends made wishes and hopes. Knowing this helped us get through the waves of fear and self-pity that threatened to overwhelm us.

Procrastination helps. Jack and I found we could put off worrying as easily as we put off doing the dishes. He says we just delayed worrying until the news got better. If you're not a procrastinator, then think of the 12-Step motto: One day at a time. My grandmother used to quote "Sufficient unto the day is the evil thereof". I have to qualify this lesson by adding that you can procrastinate on worrying, but not on action. Between Jack and my surgeon, I didn't get a chance to put off any needed exams or surgery. I was more likely to say "Breast cancer? Let me check my calendar."

Hugs help. To get a hug you have to give a hug. And that also applies to petting cats and dogs. I found that even when my breast was most tender because of an infection and radiation I could still hold a baby.

Laughter is a gift that makes all things better. Each of us has a sense of humor that is tickled by different things. To some the slapstick, the obvious jokes of the professional humorist are funny. To me it's the sly turn of phrase and the irony and ambiguity of life. Whatever makes us giggle or guffaw is good for our bodies.

Don't sweat the small stuff. I had to enlarge my definition of small stuff. Especially since sweating became automatic when they took away my hormone replacement therapy (Estrogen and Progesterone) and put me on Tamoxifen. I spied a motto on a T-shirt "I'm not having hot flashes; I'm having power surges." I've also heard it termed "personal heatwave". A friend in Alanon used to say "Don't pole vault over mole hills."

Prioritize your life. Jeanette says: "It is much more important to give my kid a hug than have a clean house." And another Alanon motto: First things first. This has been a hard lesson for me to apply. I'm still trying to do it all. After cancer, things don't go back to normal. I had a hard time accepting that my definition of 'normal' had to change. I am finding a new normal as I give up my familiar ideas of what is right for my life and stop trying to control everything.

 

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Copyright © 1998 by Frances A. Beslanwitch

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