A dear, dear friend of mine was recently diagnosed with breast cancer.  Rather than go on a rant, I thought it’d be better to just let her tell her story.

Guest blog by Sara J. Larson

“Sara, I’m sorry, I have bad news.  You have breast cancer.”

My doctor’s voice accompanied the sound of my life crashing down around my ears.  One minute you’re bopping right ahead with your life, plans for the future in hand.  The next minute you find yourself in the Cancer Cafeteria saying, “I’ll have six chemotherapies, a surgery, a couple dozen radiations, and – what the heck – another surgery.  And nothing else.” Your life stops cold, and every aspect of it, including its continuation, becomes uncertain.  I felt like Schrodinger’s cat – neither alive nor dead, but some amorphous, indeterminate state in between.

And it’s true.  First you cry.  Actually, if you’re me, you have a full out six-year-old’s hissy fit.  I have never been so angry in my life.  I felt ripped off and defrauded, and filled with terror.  I threw myself on the bed, kicking and screaming until I got it all out.

Of course I asked, “Why me?”  I’ve long pondered the nature and purpose of suffering in abstract, but this was for real.  I don’t really buy the theory that God “did this to me”.  I have trouble picturing a loving God sitting up there, pointing His finger.  “Let’s see.  I’ll send a tsunami to Indonesia, and…I’ll send some breast cancer to Sara.”  If God loves me, and I believe He does, He’s not going to zap me with pain, sickness, and possible death.  Love does not equate with the infliction of torture.

I also don’t believe that some behavior or sin of mine in a past life set me up for this.    I do believe that what goes around comes around, what you send out comes back, but give me a break here.  I don’t have cancer because I or someone else is supposed to learn some stupid lesson, either.  I don’t think the Universe is that petty.  Without a doubt, I’m learning quite a bit, and my friends and family are, too, and I believe it’s a good thing.  I just don’t think it’s the “purpose” of my illness.

I think the Buddhists got this one right.  Suffering just is.  It’s not personal.  Surprisingly, I’ve found that very comforting.  I find it easier to pray, “Just get me through this,”  if I don’t think I’m addressing the entity that inflicted the suffering on me in the first place.  When I’m deep in the pain and the sickness and the fever, it’s easier to bear if I don’t think it’s personal.  People have asked me if this signifies that my suffering is meaningless, but I don’t think suffering has to be inflicted on me by a deliberate entity for it to have meaning.

Life is, at best, uncertain.  The universe can hand down a death sentence to any one, any time.  To me, life is sweet and the world is beautiful, and I’m in no hurry to leave.  I firmly believe that when this life is over, I will stand before God, and He will say, “I gave you this world and this human life.  What did you do with it?”  I have always tried to live a life full of faith, hope, charity, and love, and now I feel that is even more important.  I want to live well, and if I can’t live, I hope to die well.

One thing I’ve learned from my illness is the value of  friendship.  My father spent his life trying to make me believe that there is no such thing as friendship; it was his gospel.  His theories made me sad.  Ghandi said, “Be the change you want to see in the world.”  So I decided that I was going to try to be a good friend.  Now that I need my friends, I’m finding out that the way to have a friend is indeed to be one.  Many people are blessed, but I have just been showered with blessing after blessing.  I had no idea I was important to anyone.  (And I’m NOT fishing here, folks.)  People love me – who knew?  I’m massively motivated to live just so I can repay all the caring I’ve received in the last few weeks.

I’ve discovered reservoirs of strength I didn’t know existed.  Chemo is hard, and I’m still facing the pain and loss of surgery and the pain and exhaustion of radiation.  I’ve learned to concentrate on the temporary nature of my treatment – my today is not my forever.  It’s an exercise of faith and hope to see my future and all the things that are still going to be there after I’m well, to believe I will be well.  When it’s bad and darkness is all I can see, I reach into my soul and pull out the pieces of light that are my work, my art, and my loved ones.  All the things that give me meaning, and that will still be there when the pain ends.

I’m also trying to make a difference, even a small one.  I’m blogging my journey with The Beast at http://sarajlarson/wordpress.com.  Here’s my spiel.  EVERYONE is at risk for breast cancer.  I have no family history of cancer, and I did my monthly self-exams and got my annual mammograms faithfully.  The kind I have is inflammatory breast cancer, and it does not present as a lump in the breast and does not show up on a mammogram until it’s become invasive.  I thought I had mastitis.  If you, man or woman, notice any change in your breast at all, even a little pinkness or redness or minor soreness, GET to the DOCTOR.  This is a fast, aggressive cancer.  Alarmist is better than incurable.

I want to thank Maurice for letting me stand on his soapbox today.  It is a great gift of friendship.  Thanks to you for listening.