First give credit to my fabulous friend Hollye Jacobs of the equally fabulous Silver Pen blog, for coining the phrase F-bomb breast cancer, which she shortens to FBC. No reason to be polite to such a rude disease. It has in the last year rudely intruded on three dear friends–under 50!–and exactly 8 years ago rudely intruded on me. The F-bomb awful truth is we all know someone dealing with this rudeness.
My friends are doing okay, God bless them, and so am I, bless me. So is Hollye. But unlike Hollye, a trained nurse and talented writer who unflinchingly, gracefully, and humorously chronicled her life with FBC, I kept quiet about mine. What compels me to write about it now is the timing of my own FBC anniversary and the news this week of the death of Charla Krupp from FBC at 58. Charla was the dynamo author of the best-selling How Not to Look Old and How Never to Look Fat Again, who was a popular presence on The Today Show and a boon to the style and self-esteem of millions of women. The books are fab, btw, even if you are young and thin. I worked briefly with her on a project for the Carlisle and Per Se collections clothing lines, and she was a doll. Her publicist sent an email saying he was stunned by her death; he had no idea.
That was her choice, and I respect and understand it. At the time of my diagnosis I was a single girl living in New York City, hosting a television show (Southern Living Presents for the erstwhile Turner South network), and freelance writing for magazines. I did not see how FBC was going to advance my cause in any of those areas, so I tried with some success to keep it to my inner circle. That, and I simply did not want it to be what my life was about. I never saw myself as a victim and I couldn’t bear anyone else seeing me as one either. I’ve shed some of my armour since then (work in progress); but at the time, to cadge again from Hollye, It wasn’t how I rolled. Honey I slapped on that wig, threw on that ball gown, got myself to that party, to that gym, on that date, to that chemo, and then to dinner and the theater afterward. Not that I felt like eating, but the theater was a good distraction. I’d sit on the aisle JIC.
There were bad days to be sure, but I was lucky. My tumor was small and caught early, but it was aggressive. (Get your mammograms, ladies, and don’t make me come after you!) After a lumpectomy, there was full-on chemo and radiation. All a huge pain in the ass. Though I have to admit there was something great about wearing wigs. And I was not above having fun with them, either; as in at a dinner party turning the wig askew like it had slipped, and pretending not to notice–that was one of my favorites. Not to make light of it, but YES to make light of it, dammit! If you see what I mean.
Not to sound Pollyanna-ish either, but once I composed myself (not pretty) it hit like a lightening bolt that I could choose to see this as a gift. The wrapping sucked, but there was a gift for sure. Gratitude for what I had–friends, family, great medical care, food, shelter. And for the deafeningly loud wake-up call that a life-threatening illness is to a 40-something-year-old.
If ever there was a time to focus on what’s good for you, this would be it: diet and exercise of course, and prayer or some form of spiritual practice; but also people, relationships, habits, reactions, and the everyday activities that might be draining your energy or dragging you down without your even being conscious of it. That’s the waking up I’m talking about.
It’s a gift to be able to step outside yourself and really notice what you’re doing, saying, thinking – and how it makes you feel. Focus on activities and relationships that make you feel good, that “raise your vibration,” and diminish those that don’t. Your treatment may change your disease, but YOU can change your energy, and that definitely makes you stronger. Shaman healers believe you change yourself to the point where the disease does not recognize you. (Out there, but I get it – and interesting none the less.)
My friend Hollye chose to find silver linings in every aspect of dealing with her illness, but she never denied or downplayed that it was scary and awful. Now cancer-free, Hollye continues her beautiful blog and its abundance of silver linings. I am certain her attitude, which is authentic for her and resonates with every cell in her body, did change her energy and make her stronger. And by the way, whenever you want to “raise you vibration” just go to her blog; it works every time, I swear.
But listen, no one “causes” her cancer anymore than she causes her blue eyes or her addiction to Downton Abbey. It happens. It’s part of your journey. It’s an f-bomb bore to say the least. But it’s also an opportunity to learn things about yourself you might never have otherwise: your strength, your grace, your faith, your friends, your not-friends, and the incredible healing power of laughter and love.
How you handle it, whom you tell, what you tell is up to you. And for God’s sake don’t wear yourself out returning every phone call and email. Your real friends will give you a pass and the rest don’t matter. This is the universe’s way of saying: TAKE CARE OF YOURSELF.
Now if you’re lucky enough to have avoided the big C or some other scary health thing thus far in your precious life, are you living as if you hadn’t? ‘Cause if you’re not, you should be. If you see what I mean.