Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn't Make Me a Better Person

Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person, An Excerpt – Part 2

In my previous post, I shared part 1 of my upcoming new book’s introduction. As promised, here’s part 2. As always, your thoughts are welcome. And it looks like my book is on schedule to be out next week, or very soon after that. Check back here for updates. Now here’s part 2…

Introduction, Part 2

Like many teenagers, I wasn’t entirely happy with my new, emerging shape. I always felt a bit small in the bosom and a few times stuffed my bra with Kleenex for a little oomph. That worked fine until I started going steady and couldn’t fool my boyfriend’s groping hands with Kleenex.

In college I even went so far as to secretly order a “bust enhancing” exercise contraption I discovered in a magazine. The ad promised to significantly increase my measurements if I followed the directions for mere minutes a day. The device was a piece of pink plastic with a tight spring of some sort in the middle. You held the device in front of you and squeezed the two sides together. I stood in my dorm room with the door tightly shut squeezing away, but I never noticed anything happening, except for a growing realization I had been duped.

Shortly after graduating from college, my high school sweetheart David and I got married and I came to accept my body, at least most of the time. I became confident, comfortable and just plain more mature about how I looked at myself. The days of wanting to change my body were over, well, mostly over. Later came three babies and I proudly breastfed all three. Suddenly, my breasts were truly functioning as nature intended and I grew to appreciate them during that special time (except for the sore nipples and painful case of mastitis). After that period, I didn’t think much about breasts. Life was too busy. Years passed and mammograms entered into my now more mature routine. I patted myself on the back for entering this new watchdog phase of breast awareness.

Then one day out of the blue it seemed, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer and suddenly breasts were back in life’s spotlight, now as potential betrayers and messengers of doom. After her diagnosis and death four years later from the wretched disease, I naively believed I could not be stricken for at least a while. Some reasonable period of time would have to pass. No family could be inflicted with back-to-back cancers. That would be too cruel. There must be quotas on misery allotments. Surely I would be spared, or at least given a fair amount of time to prepare. I was wrong. Cancer sticks to its own protocol, which means it doesn’t follow any. It strikes whenever it damn pleases. My cancer diagnosis came in April 2010 and my personal cancer domino effect was set in motion. It continues to this day.

A few weeks later on an ordinary day in late spring, or early summer, depending on your seasonal vantage point, I said goodbye to my breasts. I miss them. I miss a lot of things about my pre-cancer life. This does not mean I’m trying to rewind my life. I’m not. My life now is good, very good. I have much to be grateful for and I am, but cancer changes everything. It just does. Cancer is a string of losses and I will certainly never be calling it a gift. And just for the record, it didn’t make me a better person either.

So that’s most of my intro. Hopefully it makes you want to read more! 


Have you ever felt dissatisfied with your breasts or any other body part(s)?

Have you ever tried to make your breasts appear bigger, smaller or non-existent?

If you’ve had a mastectomy or a lumpectomy for any reason, do you miss your old breast(s)?


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Cancer Was Not a Gift

20 thoughts to “Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person, An Excerpt – Part 2”

  1. Nancy, more often than not, I have wished my breasts were smaller. There were beautiful clothes I wanted to fit into but couldn’t, or they didn’t look right on me, because of the size of my breasts. The cutest tops and dresses are made for women with smaller breasts, at least those I wanted to own.

    Right now one breast is bigger than the other. I’ve always had that, except the one with the cancer was the smaller one so now they look a little uneven. I don’t miss much about my breasts as much as I thought I would because I view them differently today. But I also had a lumpectomy so this was not a drastic change for me. I do miss who I was before my diagnosis.

    I am sorry about your mama and your experiences with cancer. No one should have to go through this pain, seeing a love one suffer and then being diagnosed. You stay well, Nancy. xx

    1. Rebecca, I miss who I was before too. And I miss my breasts. Thank you for sharing and thank you for your kind words about my mother. I know you understand all too well. xx

  2. I do so love the title of your book… It is the one thing that I hear often; I work in palliative care and people always assume that cancer is going to turn you into a better version of yourself and that makes it such a gift…
    I had a lumpectomy just over a year ago and my shape is not the same but then neither am I; it is not just what breast cancer does to your breasts, it is what it does to your body and our bodies are amazing to fight back after being cut, burnt and posioned. For me, losing my hair and it growing back like an old ladies perm (my hair was totally straight and half way down my back) and the colour of dirty steel is alien to me and shocks me constantly, not to mention people whom I have not seen since my diagnosis and the shock it gives them! I hate that cancer took more than just a bit of my breast!
    I am so sorry to hear that you lost your Mother to breast cancer and then to be diagnosed yourself so soon after!
    I am sure this book will do very well as there is a lot of us out there…
    Keep smiling

    1. Susan, I am glad to hear you like the title. I realize not everyone will, which is fine. You are so right, cancer impacts our minds not just our bodies. And don’t get me started on the topic of hair… Thank you for your kind words about my mother. It was hard to see her go through all that she did and then be diagnosed so soon after that. But there is no good time to get cancer, of course. Thank you for sharing.

  3. As a teenager, I was dying for bigger breasts. I bought all of those bras (including the ones with the water in them) in order to look bigger. But as I got older, I began to love my small breasts. It meant I could go braless in the summer. I fit into clothes well (at least in the chest area). When I was breastfeeding my son, I actually didn’t like that they were bigger in size. But I loved breastfeeding. We did it for 17 months. And even though my son is now almost 3 years old, I still yearn for it the same way I did when he was a baby. One of the things that breaks my heart is that I’ll never get to breastfeed again. It’s not fair. It’s wrong.

    1. Carrie, I grew to love my breasts as they were too. And then… I am sorry you won’t have the chance to breastfeed again. It’s not fair at all. I hate how cancer robs women of so much. Thank you for sharing your feelings about this. xx

  4. I’m really glad you’re directly addressing the topic of the “gift,” being better and all that. The further away I get from treatment, the more I see how much damage was done and the huge repercussions. I wish I were among the camp that views it as a gift, but it’s clear it’s not been anything like that for me.

    1. Eileen, If and when anyone chooses to read my memoir, I hope they will understand more clearly why I cannot and will not ever call cancer a gift. Thank you for sharing how you feel.

  5. Nancy,

    I did all the wacky things teenagers do (socks work better than Kleenex) IMHO. Anyway, as I commented on your previous post, I was always shy about showing too much cleavage. My breasts were on the smaller side. Deep down inside, however shy I might have been, I loved my breasts. They were the perfect size, not too small or large, and I was content with them. Then when my right breast betrayed me, I began to look at them as enemies. I refused to take a picture of them before my bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.

    While I’m content with the plastic surgery, I really miss the breasts I was born with. I regret not taking a picture of them before the surgery.

    1. Beth, I don’t think I actually tried socks! Well, maybe I tried pantyhose, does that count? Ha. I wish I had taken photos too. Of course, my plastic surgeon has some, but I don’t want to ask him for those. Brings up too many awful memories. I’m not all that content with my plastic surgery results, I’m okay with them at best. I do miss my originals, quite a bit actually. Thank you for sharing and for the sock tip!

  6. I hope your book does very well Nancy, the excerpt definitely leaves you wanting to read more. Although I have had reconstructive surgery I don’t regard the things on my chest as breasts. There is no breast left, just skin covering ADM and implants. These are clever fakes of sufficient quality to provide a ‘normal’ appearance when clothed. My own breasts were small in proportion to my frame but they were natural, symmetrical and unblemished. Those things cannot be said for the forgeries and I will always know they aren’t me.

  7. Cancer is never a gift! I lost my mom to ovarian cancer when I was 23 and since then I know more people who have died of breast cancer than who have survived. Regardless of type or stage of breast cancer the one thing that I know for sure is that breast cancer is sneaky, it’s indiscriminate, it’s physically and emotionally painful, and it’s personal. It’s not my breast I miss, it’s the person I was before being diagnosed that I miss.

  8. Thanks for the excerpt, the title is great. Thanks for your honesty, and thanks for being brave to share your experience with your mother. There is no one like your mom when you have a question. I am sorry for your loss. She rocked wigs for many years, I just need to know how to do that now. I too lost my mom, she had 4 different diagnosis of cancer, (double mastectomy) but it was stroke and heart attacks that actually took her. My health suffered during her illness. I found out I needed a pace-maker and defib. one year after mom died. It happened to be time for my mammogram, a mass was found. I knew that with my family history, it was cancer. My only sister is also a breast cancer survivor. I am currently dealing with the chemo, hair loss, thrush in my mouth, fatigue, joint aches and complete loss of who I was. I miss Lisa. I want this to make me into something wonderful and better, but I don’t know how that happens. I admire you for writing. It is helpful to me and many others.

    1. Lisa, I’m glad you like the title. I realize it won’t appeal to everyone and this is fine. Thank you for your kind words about my mother. I’m sorry for your loss too, and I’m sorry you were diagnosed with cancer. Going through cancer treatment is hard, so be kind and patient with yourself. My advice would be to ditch the expectations. You won’t necessarily find yourself transformed into something better either. I did not anyway. Just be you. That’s always enough. Thank you for your encouraging words about my writing. They mean a lot. My best to you.

  9. It’s not my breast that I miss, I was lucky (if luck has anything to do with being diagnosed with breast cancer…which of course is not true) to escape with a lumpectomy, radiation, and hormone therapy. What I miss is certainty in my life. Even though my breast cancer was caught early there is the uncertainty of a recurrence happening either during treatment or even years after treatment is finished. There is also the uncertainty of the cancer becoming metastatic even though I am following the the prescribed treatment. I miss my old life without breast cancer.

  10. I guess I’m just an odd one. The first day I met with my oncologist, I told him I was perfectly happy with him cutting off the affected breast….even the other one if there was a possibility of the cancer spreading or recurring there. I just wanted the cancer out of me. My opinion was that it is just a breast, not a leg or an arm or an eye or something that I REALLY need. The breast just hangs there doing nothing. I did end up having a mastectomy. Didn’t bother me at all. I agree with Sue, though. The uncertainty of the future is worse than any of the treatments I underwent. Will it come back? Will it be in a few months or a few years? That’s the tough part. But I have to move on and live. I’ll share a quote I read and like: “Moving on doesn’t mean that what you went through was insignificant. It only means that you made peace with it.”

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