Living on the Sunny Side of Cancer

by Mary Lou Quinlan • 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, I’ll be sharing what I’m going through—both brave and chicken—and the progress I make.

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