Living on the Sunny Side of Cancer

by Mary Lou Quinlan • More.com Member { View Profile }

This morning I had radiation for the 31st time to annihilate my breast cancer. I’ve got, or as I like to say, I just had ductal carcinoma in situ. People who know a lot about breast cancer say that DCIS is “the good kind to get!” (“Good” being relative when it’s in front of cancer, but my stage 0, non-invasive DCIS is curable.) Sure, there’s way worse, but it’s still the C word.

Between 2005 and 2007, I wrote a column for MORE called Quinlan&Answers, all about reinventing your career. But now I’ve made it my job to reinvent my breast cancer, to replace fear with hope. I hope that valiant women with more aggressive and dire conditions don’t write me off as Pollyanna’ish, or worse, insensitive; instead, maybe I can help others who face what I’m facing, or confronting any dark period where you’re ready for a little self-administered emotional rehab.

I’ve learned it’s possible to get through something tough by deciding to turn it on its head. I’m on a journey of mind over matter, in this case, forcing my sunny side to tackle the tiny, dark cloud that appeared on a regular mammogram, just four months ago.

That April, I headed to my annual test with typical “I hate being squeezed” resolve. But I soon learned that the jaws of the machine were the least of my problems when the doctor called me back for a closer picture. My radiologist wanted a biopsy to confirm his suspicions about a small cluster of calcifications. I was right to be scared.

My breast surgeon told me to expect one of three results: A) benign, b) cancer requiring surgery and radiation or C) more tests. Rather than mope around waiting for door number one, I spent the afternoon shopping with my friend Nancy. With each hour, I became more willing to buy anything to distract myself from the gnawing worry that this time, my luck might have run out.

Balancing my cell and a notepad on my shopping bag, I scratched out my doctor’s verdict, scribbling phonetically since my brain went blank while Nancy squeezed my arm as she heard me stutter, “Ductal what?” I had barely heard of DCIS, which is surprising, since thanks to earlier detection and more regular mammograms, 22% of the women diagnosed with breast cancer each year, get it.

Nancy and I ducked into a Greek café and I downed a Pinot Grigio between sobs. Lumpectomy? A month of radiation? This can’t be.

As I walked home to tell my rock of a husband, I knew that I was going to have to get my act together, that I couldn’t sink into some self-pitying fear place. That’s not who I am or who I was raised to be. Inside, I flipped a switch to a mantra that has kept me going since I was little. I decided to grit my teeth, put one foot in front of the other and get on with it.

In a fit of defiance, I decided to create a kind of cancer reinvention to parallel the treatment so I’d literally radiate with energy and strength. Here, at MORE.com, I’ll be sharing what I’m going through—both brave and chicken—and the progress I make.

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