Dealing With F-Bomb Breast Cancer

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.

Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders
Me and my wig and bandana, far right (not that you were confused), and the Dallas Cowboys Cheerleaders, doing a segment for Southern Living Presents. They'd kick so high they'd run their stockings on the sequin stars on their vests. I was grateful knowing that was not something I would ever have to worry about.

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.

FS painting:Provence
Me and my ''chemo curls,'' painting in Provence. I look like a poodle. The good news is your hair does grow back. Painting definitely raises my vibration, even if I'm not that good at it.

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.

Read the New York Times obituary of Charla Krupp here. And run, don’t walk, to Hollye’s The Silver Pen here.


  1. Thank you for this Frances. (My friend I have never met.) I know my ” brave as you” FBC friend will so appreciate this. So sad about Charla, I have enjoyed her segments over the years.
    thanks for leading me to Silver Pen too. GBY- God bless you (-:

  2. I’ve lost people I loved to f*****g cancer. It truly does need to be treated rudely, in all its forms. So glad you made it through it, Frances. Wish Charla could have too. Cancer sucks.

    1. Thanks and love to you ALL. Btw the poodle hair is the real hair. That’s how it looked when it first grew back. It was sort of Betty-Boopish, if anyone is old enough to know who that is.

  3. Hello Frances, our mutual friend Marge Piccini forwarded me your blog post. LOVE IT. I’m currently sporting my chemo curls after surviving ovarian cancer. My favorite part of your blog was this: “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.”

  4. I am blessed & lucky to have you in my life. You are a spectacular & incredible friend & woman. Love you to pieces. xx’s Nina

  5. Frances,
    Very inspirational story.I am sorry you had to battle this horrible disease,and am glad you are now cancer free.You handled your illness with such grace.If I ever get the nasty disease, I hope I can learn from you,and this blog how to deal with it.My best to you,Betsy

  6. Frances, I am glad you are opening up about your experience. You can help a lot of women this way, as 1 in 8 women will go through it and every woman at least knows some dealing with it. I myself am at the 4 1/2 year mark. I too experienced the feeling of being given a second chance. There is great clarity that comes from it.

  7. Frances, girl, you can really write, not that I’m just now realizing this. But what a help to everyone. I always feel like I’m a sitting duck (many recalls, sonograms, biopsies, etc.), but who knows? I’m sending this to everyone I know (well, the cool people, anyway).

  8. You have to be proud to know you’re helping so many others, Frances. We all know way too many women with FBC. My sister is a 20 year breast cancer survivor (I say while I knock on wood). In those days the diagnosis was almost a death sentence. Keep up your good work. Glad you beat it!

  9. Frances,
    I have always enjoyed your musings and writings….and now, deep admiration for your wit and courage that will surely lead many a heart to inner strength and determination.
    Will definitely be passing this one on to my buds and loved ones!

    1. Oh, Ann, and all of you, thank you again. I’ve already heard from several of you that you’ve scheduled your mammograms. Brava. And if one-tenth of what you all say is true, then I’ve done my job.

  10. Bravo to you,! A beautifully written and honest testimonial about your Breast Cancer journey. I want to thank you for sharing your thoughts and helping those of us along the way that have been on this journey or about to begin this journey.

  11. YO Frances! So glad to read your crazy humorous blog regarding the rude intruder. The FnC came calling to our house in September in the form of larynx C. Surgery and radiation later I expect to make a full recovery but it also left me madder than hell. Keep writing. The laughter you create is healing!

    1. Cam, F-bomb! Sorry to hear about your intruder but something tells me you will throw the bum out, and with style. Love to you. F

  12. Frances, I will never forget the first article you wrote about my life and decorating. I still treasure it……….and the book on Atlanta at Home…………your are a talented and beautiful treasure, and I am glad to hear the good news. Great blog.

    1. Oh Benjie, and I will never forget that apartment! I am lucky to have written more about your beautiful work through the years. It is great to hear from you, and thank you so much! x! Frances

  13. Frances, I’ve had the FBC twice! How I needed your blog. Somehow there is a sense of empowerment to it. I am sending it to my oh-too-many friends who have dealt with this dreadful thing! I’m with you about the word “survivor”. sounds like one has been lost at sea! It’s time for a new term. Keep up your fabulous writing. You hit lots of nerves.

  14. Frances, I am just catching up on your blog. God bless you. I had no idea you had been through all this. You are a remarkable woman and inspiration!

    1. Allison, thank you! So nice of you to write and good to hear from you. FBC is not the way I ever wanted to inspire others, nor do I recommend it – ha! – but if it’s made even a tiny difference for someone, I’m glad of it. Please keep in touch, and bless you, too.

  15. Thank you for your irreverence and refreshing take on FBC. Have had a sh***y year dealing with the beast myself, but have found healing in writing too.

    1. Oh dear Louise, I am sorry you have had to join this s**tty club, but I hope you are on the mend and send you blessings. If you have not discovered The Silver Pen blog written by my friend Hollye Jacobs, please look it up. You will be much inspired by it. Please keep in touch and let me know how you are doing. Love, Frances

  16. I am waiting for the results of a core biopsy, and your post is such a helpful perspective to read in the midst of my worst-case anxiety fever. Even though the statistics are in my favor, potentially hearing a diagnosis of f-bomb cancer scares the s-bomb out of me; reading that life will continue, and potentially be even more meaningful, is so comforting, and even calmed me down for a minute or two. Thank you, Frances.

    1. Dear Michelle, well f-bomb again. I’m sorry you are faced with the possibility of this. My intuition tells me you are one of those strong capable types not accustomed to asking for help. Make an exception in this case. You have many friends and family who love you and who will be there for you. Let them. You’ll be surprised by how strong it makes you feel. Keep in touch. Love, Frances

  17. Me too! Double Mastectomy/total hysterectomy and surgeries (22)’that were a part of my growing adventure in life. I found out so many things related to my heart in the process; just how much I am loved! I gained access to a part of my spirit I had never known. Teachings that continue to teach, and loving the fact that today I am grateful feelings of all kinds… Because I am ALIVE to feel them. My husband says all of my scars (many) are beautiful, like badges of complete courage. I guess we are pretty strong, right?!? Love you you sweet thing!!!! Xo

    1. Oh sweet Jodi, my gosh i had no idea. Your attitude, and your words here, are so amazing. Thank you for sharing them, and blessings to you, love, Frances

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