In 2001, when I was diagnosed with ductal carcinoma in situ (DCIS), an early form of breast cancer, everything was going well in my life. I was 47 years old and had three wonderful children, ages 12, 16, and 18. Happily married, my husband and I had just celebrated our 24th wedding anniversary.
After being given my options and seeking numerous medical opinions, I chose to have a mastectomy and reconstruction. The surgery and immediate recovery were basically uneventful, except for the emotional upheaval and occasional panic attacks.
Journaling Saved Me
My journaling practice from diagnosis to post-op recovery, became my saving grace. Sometimes I would write poems such as this one:
The day after the doctor
cut off my breast
I got on the phone
to my therapist
who told me to give
myself some time
to figure out who I am
after being slashed
by the knife.
I was pleased that my surgeon had recommended reconstructive surgery at the time of my mastectomy so that I would, “wake up with a breast.” But, as a very sensual person, the nature of my surgery profoundly affected my view of myself as a woman.
In addition to the loss of sensation on the mastectomy side, each morning and night when dressing and undressing I was reminded of my physical deformity. My surgeon assured me that most women are asymmetrical and that nobody would notice.
My surgeon’s input was also instrumental in my healing. I’ll never forget how he suggested that I keep a journal during my post-op period.
Helping with Words
I’m the type of person who prefers to move on from negative experiences, so when I was ready, I tucked those journals away in my office closet. Soon thereafter, friends, family members, and colleagues encouraged me to write a book to help other women with their own breast cancer journeys. Given my nursing, psychology, and writing background and my keen desire to help others, I was often referred to as a…