Tomorrow is another day…

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.

Meet Bella…

I have to say this was my best New Year yet and, though I am looking forward to 2012, I am enjoying living for today.

There will be a Spring Writing Series beginning in mid-March. Be sure to visit 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?

10 thoughts on “Tomorrow is another day…

  1. Very nice to meet you!! My best friend is Jaime Rossano who is also a breast cancer survivor!! She has a blog on here also!! I very rarely follow others stories but happened to come across yours today and wow how you touched me!! good luck and may many more blessings come your way!!
    Thank god for small miracles

  2. Donna, congratulations and best wishes to you always. I don’t know where to start congratulating you first. What a beautiful darling daughter you have and being a breast cancer survivor, what more can you want? I also was diagnosed with Stage 1 Invasive Ductal Carcinoma. Might not sound like much compared with what other women have had to face, but it was a lot. Although I was not required to have chemotherapy or radiation, I did undergo a total hysterectomy and then two weeks later a bilateral mastectomy with immediate reconstruction. Although was I lucky enough to escape the chemo and radiation because my tumor was caught very early, I was unlucky in that I was diagnosed with a BRCA2 gene. Yes I was more than scared and uncertain about what I would face. The first question I asked was whether I was going to die. I was so afraid. Yet I went through my surgeries and tried to keep my attitude positive. After I cried and cried about what I faced in the near distant future with all of the operations, I am so glad that I am through with all of that now. I faithfully follow my recommended screening guidelines and am in the beginning of my fourth year of survivorship. Living life in the present is a good lesson for all of us to learn as one never knows what the future is going to bring. Your life, with your new baby girl, your vegetable garden and your new found attitude about what is important to you should be a life lesson for others as no one knows from one minute to the next what is in store for them. In an instant one’s life can change. Thank GOD you and I and many others are here to tell about it. Enjoy that beautiful little princess, Bella, and teach her well.

    • Thank you so much for the kind words. I was quite nervous about writing and did not know what to expect. I am sorry to hear about your experiences with breast cancer. I am glad that you are doing well and living your life.

      Survivorship does offer the gift of a different perspective on life, the world and our relationship to each. I still have my “down” days or fall victim to the fear and anxiety of a recurrence, but I am mostly positive and grateful for each day.

      • I know exactly where you are coming from with the fear and anxiety of occurrence, but it is good if you could stay as positive as possible. Do you know how many times I have been told not to worry, but naturally I am not this way. If I am not worrying, I would be out of my element. Actually though, I was sorry to get my breast cancer diagnosis and I was so scared to death, and I don’t think there are any guarantees to any of us about recurrence even though my risk was extremely high because of the BRCA gene. That being said, I have learned so much about myself. I can share with you that my Mom’s breast cancer actually came back as ovarian cancer and I wasn’t waiting around for that to happen to me.

        I grew an awful lot from my experience. I went through and did what I had to and found out that I am stronger than what I thought. Also, I have supported quite a few women through their mastectomies and treatment. I have made so many friends out of this very crummy experience. I am an Ambassador with Susan G. Komen and I organize a yearly golf outing on their behalf. I have done quite a bit of public speaking and did a news conference with one of our local Congressmen when they introduced the new 50 year old screening guidelines. When I first took the podium, this was the first time I spoke publicly, I was so nervous but after I got started they couldn’t shut me up. How could anyone argue with the fact that I had a clean mammogram at age 47 and had breast cancer at 48 and if I had waited to 50 who knows what would have happened. Pre-breast cancer I would never do any of this stuff. I have taken a hit by a few people who told me that I talk about my breast cancer much to much but I need to stay true to myself and if my experience can help another woman, this is what I want to do. I really enjoyed our interaction and congratulations on helping other through your experience. Your writing was absolutely perfect.

  3. What a wonderful story. I too am a breast cancer survivor – I was also diagnosed in May, 2008. I’m on the other side as well and loving my life. But am hopeful that I will be able to adopt a child and am having a very difficult time (primarily due to my diagnoses). If you could offer some thoughts and tips on your adoption journey – I would be so very grateful.

    • Hi Sandy,

      Thank you for responding to my post. I am adopting through the Camden County Division of Social Services. It is not an easy process, but not too difficult, either. I applied through the Foster-to-Adopt program of New Jersey. I had to complete a home study evaluation, a four week course in dealing with children in the foster care system and their unique challenges, and have a background check.

      I, orginally, thought that given my single status and personal health history I would be placed with an older child. I had the bedroom all ready for child of, perhaps, eight to twelve years old. I recieved a telephone call about an infant girl shortly after I was certified by the state as a foster parent. She arrived a day later and is the true love and light of my life.

      Though mom and dad definately could not care for her, it was scary the first couple of months because the social workers were looking for other family members who might wish to adopt the baby. Once that process was complete it became a matter of waiting for the paperwork and a court system that is bogged down by too many of these cases. I do have to say that the social workers have been wonderful. They are supportive and always available for myself and the baby.

      I do struggle with the occassional self-doubt and my fear of recurrence has taken on a deeper dimension. I am now responsible for another person and that is daunting. However, I have a good prognosis and I am working on taking care of myself and my health. I have made provisions for my daughter’s future in the unlikely case that I am no longer around. Which, when you think about it, is something all parent should do.

      I try to concentrate on the positive and offer her love and stability. And, to date, it has been and continues to be an amazing experience.

      I hope that helped. If you have any more questions–let me know. Thanks and I wish you well on your journey.


  4. Beautiful story. Life is about today our present. Many wonderful years of blessings to you and your beautiful daughter. There is a reason for the storms in our lives. Perhaps you had to experience your journey in order have the beautiful daughter that is now a part of your life. She was waiting just for you.

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  6. I’m excited to find this web site. I need to to thank you for ones time due to this wonderful read!! I definitely loved every little bit of it and I have you book marked to look at new things on your site.

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