This entry was written by Donna Helmes, a participant of the 2011 Fall Writing Series:
When I was a young girl, my father took me to see an afternoon showing of the movie, Gone With the Wind. Just one look at the beautiful, larger-than-life Scarlett O’Hara and I was hooked. I took many things about the story to heart, including Ms. O’Hara’s belief that “tomorrow is another day,” – and, that there is always time to deal with things in the future.
In my own life, I had put off a personal life to pursue my career. What about a serious relationship? A relaxing vacation? Having a family of my own? Well, after all, tomorrow is another day…
Then in 2008, during a routine mammogram, an eagle-eyed radiologist discovered a mass. After a diagnosis of breast cancer (invasive ductal carcinoma), a bilateral mastectomy and 4 rounds of chemotherapy soon followed. As I recovered from treatment, I was filled with regret over missed opportunities; I grieved for things I believed that I would never have. My heart broke at the realization that I would probably never have a child of my own. I no longer believed in tomorrow. I thought my life was over before it ever really had begun.
I hated having breast cancer. Period. I do not want any woman to have to face this diagnosis, nor do I want my cancer to return. It was hard to go through treatment and to live with its aftereffects. Yet, a funny thing happened on my journey through Cancer Town. I stopped mourning my tomorrows and began to live for today.
I wanted to live my dreams. Most cancer patients have fantasies about climbing Mt. Everest or…running with the bulls in Pamplona. Me? I didn’t think I needed a big life to have a great one. I started digging in my garden and discovered that I absolutely love flowers. I bought a small house near the river with a wonderful area for roses and a vegetable patch. I took long walks and cut back on my hours at work. I borrowed books from the local library and sipped wine at lunch with friends.
I took a deep breath and signed up for a poetry writing class with Alysa Cummings through Living Beyond Breast Cancer. The idea of participating terrified me; therefore, I knew that it was the right thing to do. I had never written poetry, though I had kept a journal for many years. Interestingly, once diagnosed with cancer, I found I could no longer write a word. At first, I attributed this to “chemo-brain,” but my writer’s block continued long after my treatment ended. I realized that I was afraid to write. Scared to express how I felt, scared to release all those complicated emotions – anger, fear, resentment, uncertainty – that go along with having a diagnosis of breast cancer. I feared becoming overwhelmed by them.
Luckily, rather than being overwhelmed, I felt lighter and empowered by the class. It provided me with a safe space to process my experience and I learned what being a breast cancer survivor means to me. I found myself writing once again. At night I would pop open my journal, excited to fill the blank pages.
After treatment, and with the promise of a very good prognosis still ringing in my ears, I contacted the Social Services Adoption Division. Nine months to the day, they placed my daughter in my arms. This summer, she and I chased butterflies and ate cherry tomatoes from our garden. We celebrated the holidays and together we rang in 2012.
There will be a Spring Writing Series beginning in mid-March. Be sure to visit LBBC.org for more information. This 2012, how will you define your breast cancer diagnosis and channel the devastation of your breast cancer into an outlet of positivity?