Last night while on my computer I stumbled upon a twitter discussion regarding a blog post written by a breast cancer survivour. The topic was regarding cancer seen as a gift. The writer was of the opinion that cancer was not a gift, and that she'd much rather kick it in the ass than view it in any other way. It was plain as day that it was not considered a gift to her.
This got me thinking. I wrote back to her on Twitter, and mentioned that I, too, was a breast cancer survivour, and a blogger. I mentioned that I had written blog posts saying how much I had considered cancer a gift. Now I'm not inferring, by any stretch of the imagination, that I consider myself fortunate to have been hit with the big "C." Nor would I want anyone else to be fortunate enough to receive this gift.
I also wrote in my answer that I would have much rather been bopped on the head to be awakened, than to have experienced cancer, but that the result of having cancer changed my life, and this is why...
If I hadn't been through cancer and the subsequent treatments, I wouldn't know who my true friends were. The ones who stuck around, and were by my side because they truly wanted to be there. Now there are other ways besides cancer that can weed out the sunny day friends from the field, maybe something easier, like losing your job, getting a divorce or running into financial trouble; but cancer brings its own stigma with it. The ones who hold your hand while red toxic substances are streaming into your arm, hold you while you are throwing up, and just call you to remind you that they're there, are worth their weight in gold.
If I had been bopped in the head instead, I wouldn't see with the same vision today. My eyes were always open, but I couldn't see in front of me. There is so much out there that is beautiful beyond description. The water as you cross the bridge on a bright and calm day. The beautiful rainbow that appears after a torrential downpour offering tidings of joy and bright colours of promise. I may have been been able to see, but I was sleep walking through life. Going through my day to day routine with conveyor belt efficiency and with an end of day purpose.
If I hadn't had cancer, I would be living in quite the rich future. Dreaming of the things I would have, the places I would see, and the job with the corner office. Thing is, as good as it is to dream (and I have quite the fertile imagination that fuels my dreams), you will pass over what is right in front of your eyes. This "gift" enabled me to slow down and savour the moment. And there is so much to see and enjoy. Instead of living in anticipation, I live in adoration.
Living post-cancer has brought with it other riches. The enjoyment of cooking and learning to eat food that is nutritious. The need to meditate and centre myself at the beginning of the day. The awareness of my breath, and of my surroundings. All have been blessings in my life as a cancer survivor. Would I have discovered these things having been bopped over the head? Possibly yes, but not very likely. Even the continued love of running has more meaning since I've been through cancer, as I am so much more aware of the importance of exercise to my health.
Going through my cancer experience enabled me to understand the health care system and how it really works. It showed me how important it is to be your own health advocate, and to be on top of your own case. And in the times that it was all just too much for me, it taught me humility...that I didn't always have to do everything on my own. There were times where I had to bring loved ones to medical appointments with me, to take notes, or simply to hold my hand.
Although I have always loved my family, cancer made them more clear and brilliant. They were there for me all the way. How lucky is that? It could have been different, just like those rainy day friends.
Most importantly, cancer gave me the gift of strength. Where I was not always strong (or didn't think I was), being hit with this showed me just how resilient I am. It gave me the tremendous opportunity to be that all-important example to my girls, who were much too young to see their mother going through something like this. I showed them what it was like to get up after being kicked down. How to do it with grace and dignity, and with mountains of love. That is the gift I passed to my daughters, and I hope they will remember as they go through their trials and tribulations of life. They may have learnt something if I had been bopped in the head instead, but something tells me it wouldn't have been the same.
Results of a massive gene analysis, published last month in the journal <em>Nature</em>, shows that there are <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/24/four-breast-cancer-types-genetics-genes_n_1909116.html">four major classes</a> of breast cancer, the Associated Press reported. "With this study, we're one giant step closer to understanding the genetic origins of the <a href="http://www.siteman.wustl.edu/ContentPage.aspx?id=6431">four major subtypes of breast cancer</a>," study researcher Matthew Ellis, M.B., B.Chir., Ph.D., of the Washington University School of Medicine and the Siteman Cancer Center, said in a statement. "Now, we can investigate which drugs work best for patients based on the genetic profiles of their tumors," he added in the statement. "For basal-like breast tumors, it's clear they are genetically more similar to ovarian tumors than to other breast cancers. Whether they can be treated the same way is an intriguing possibility that needs to be explored."
Men are less likely to get breast cancer than women -- but when they do, it's <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/breast-cancer-men_n_1479739.html">often deadlier</a>, according to a study presented earlier this year at the American Society of Breast Surgeons meeting. The Associated Press reported that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/04/breast-cancer-men_n_1479739.html">men diagnosed with breast cancer</a> live, on average, two fewer years than women who are diagnosed with breast cancer, and are also more likely to have the breast cancer spread, have larger tumors when the cancer is discovered, and be diagnosed later.
Cadmium -- a toxic metal that can be present in foods like shellfish, root vegetables, offal and cereals -- may <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/cadmium-breast-cancer-intake_n_1347523.html">raise risk of breast cancer</a>, according to a March 2012 study in the journal <em>Cancer Research</em>. The research included 56,000 women. Researchers were able to analyze about how much cadmium each woman was consuming based on the cadmium-rich foods in her diet. They found that those who <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/03/15/cadmium-breast-cancer-intake_n_1347523.html">consumed the most cadmium</a> had a 21 percent higher breast cancer risk, compared with those who consumed the least cadmium, HuffPost's Catherine Pearson reported.
Getting six or fewer hours of sleep <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/09/06/sleep-breast-cancer-aggressive-deprivation_n_1854658.html">may raise the risk of recurrent breast cancer</a> among post-menopausal breast cancer patients, according to a study in the journal <em>Breast Cancer Research and Treatment</em>. However, this same link was not observed for pre-menopausal breast cancer patients. The findings suggest "that <a href="http://www.uhhospitals.org/about/media-news-room/current-news/2012/08/lack-of-sleep-found-to-be-a-new-risk-factor-for-aggressive-breast-cancers">lack of sufficient sleep</a> may cause more aggressive tumors, but more research will need to be done to verify this finding and understand the causes of this association," study researcher Cheryl Thompson, Ph.D. said in the statement.
A <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/acos-afo092712.php">smallpox virus</a> seems to be promising against a hard-to-treat form of breast cancer, called triple-negative breast cancer, according to a study in mice presented at the 2012 Annual Clinical Congress of the American College of Surgeons. "Based upon pathology, we could see that at least 60 percent of the <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-10/acos-afo092712.php">tumors were completely regressed</a> and the other 40 percent had very little areas of tumor cells present with a lot of necrosis, which is a sign that the tumor was responding to therapy," study researcher Dr. Sepideh Gholami, M.D., of Stanford University Medical Center, said in a statement. ABC News pointed out that this <a href="http://abcnews.go.com/blogs/health/2012/10/01/smallpox-virus-may-help-treat-deadly-form-of-breast-cancer/">kind of breast cancer is notoriously hard to treat</a> because it doesn't respond to other hormonal or immune treatments.
Working the night shift is linked to an increased risk of breast cancer, according to two different studies that came out this year. One of them, published in the journal <em>Occupational and Environmental Medicine</em>, showed that <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/05/30/shift-work-breast-cancer-risk_n_1553058.html">breast cancer risk went up </a>among women who worked the night shift more than twice a week, with the risk being the highest among those who said that they are "morning people" instead of "night people." <em>The Toronto Sun</em> reported that the results of this study confirm the findings of the International Agency for Research on Cancer, which has a list of items and <a href="http://www.torontosun.com/2012/05/29/night-shift-work-linked-to-breast-cancer-risk">habits that may cause cancer</a>. The IARC considers shift work "possibly carcinogenic." The other study, published in the <em>International Journal of Cancer</em>, showed that breast cancer risk is 30 percent higher for <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/01/shift-work-breast-cancer-night-sleep_n_1612486.html">women who work the night shift</a>, with the risk being especially clear among those working night-time jobs for four years, or those who worked the night shift for three or fewer nights a week.
The genes that help determine a <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/breast-cancer-risk-breast-size-study_n_1652292.html">woman's breast size</a> may also be linked with her breast cancer risk, according to a study published earlier this year in the journal <em>BMC Medical Genetics</em>. Researchers examined the genetic data of 16,000 women to find that seven DNA variations, called single nucleotide polymorphisms (SNPs), seem to be <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/07/05/breast-cancer-risk-breast-size-study_n_1652292.html">linked with breast size</a> -- and three of those SNPs are known to be associated with a person's risk of breast cancer, HuffPost's Catherine Pearson reported.
Just a little bit of exercise may help to <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/exercise-breast-cancer-risk-moderate_n_1619175.html">reduce your risk of breast cancer</a>, though the more you move, the better, according to a study in the journal <em>CANCER</em>. Researchers at the University of North Carolina in Chapel Hill found that postmenopausal or reproductive-age women in their study who exercised the most -- from 10 to 19 hours each week -- had a 30 percent <a href="http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2012/06/25/exercise-breast-cancer-risk-moderate_n_1619175.html">lower risk of breast cancer</a>, though exercising less than that was still linked with some protective benefits. "The observation of a reduced risk of breast cancer for women who <a href="http://www.eurekalert.org/pub_releases/2012-06/w-eem062012.php">engaged in exercise after menopause</a> is particularly encouraging given the late age of onset for breast cancer," study researcher Lauren McCullough said in a statement.
For post-menopausal women, <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9541796/Breast-cancer-risk-raised-by-Type-2-diabetes.html">having Type 2 diabetes</a> may raise the risk of breast cancer, according to a review conducted by the International Prevention Research Institute. "On the one hand, it's thought that being overweight, often <a href="http://www.telegraph.co.uk/health/healthnews/9541796/Breast-cancer-risk-raised-by-Type-2-diabetes.html">associated with Type 2 diabetes</a>, and the effect this has on hormone activity may be partly responsible for the processes that lead to cancer growth," study researcher Peter Boyle, the president of the International Prevention Research Institute, told <em>The Telegraph</em>. "But it's also impossible to rule out that some factors related to diabetes may be involved in the process."
Being overweight could lead to worse outcomes from breast cancer, according to a study published August in the journal <em>Cancer</em>. Specifically, the study showed that overweight women who have been treated for breast cancer have a <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48800019/ns/health-cancer/t/being-overweight-tied-breast-cancer-return-death/#.UGxtN_mfGPI">higher risk of recurrence and death</a>, NBC News reported. "Obesity seemed to carry a <a href="http://www.msnbc.msn.com/id/48800019/ns/health-cancer/t/being-overweight-tied-breast-cancer-return-death/#.UGxtN_mfGPI">higher risk of breast cancer</a> recurrence and death -- even in women who were healthy at the time that they were diagnosed, and despite the fact that they received the best available chemotherapy and hormone therapy," study researcher Dr. Joseph Sparano, associate chairman of medical oncology at the Montefiore Einstein Center for Cancer Care, told NBC News.
Marisa Weiss, MD, of breast cancer.org, explains the different breast cancer stages and what they mean.
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