My Story Part I: Happy Birthday To Me

“You must have control of the authorship of your own destiny. The pen that writes your life story must be held in your own hand.”

– Irene C. Kassorla

As most women in their late 20s, (in my case, really late 20s. I’m 29 and several quarters) turning another 4 quarters older was not very exciting for me. In fact, it was pretty depressing. Especially when I factored in the fact that I was still single, in debt, with 2 kids with an absent father who marginally fulfills his legal financial obligations, and not without a fight, working for a start-up company and still struggling hard to make ends meet. I’ve long said that I refuse to enter into my 30s on the record until I was re-married, out of debt, no longer dependent on the supplemental income from child support to provide for my children and being able to afford a one-week Disney/cruise vacation once a year. To me, that’s the definition of an adult life. I’ll forego the white picket fence and the remaining 1/2 kid.

But, I wasn’t there yet. To boot, the previous year was brutal for me. Yes, there were many victories along the way, including becoming a successful fundraiser for the Lance Armstrong Foundation (LIVESTRONG), a regular and passionate cyclist and a new mountain biker, all attributed to the passion for the sport of cycling inspired by an old friend. In fact, my very enthusiastic involvement with LIVESTRONG was primarily the result of a bet issued by this friend to ride 200 miles in one day. Along the ride, I met a LIVESTRONG Leader who was also a fundraising mentor who convinced me to get more involved with the cause – for the rewards, incentive to perform etc. It had far less to do with cancer survivorship. I rode for people I loved, of course, but it was more about this amazing community of passionate cyclists, at the time.

The previous year was overwhelmed by the sorrow over a devastating fight with that same friend who inspired me to ride in the first place, his perpetual, and at times, cruel, silent treatment and my constant battle against my own metabolism. Friends pointed at depression over this broken friendship, and me being too “emo” for my own good, as the reason I was sleeping abnormally, moody and not myself. Part of me believed this to be the case — this certainly was what kept me up at night  — I was afraid of dreams of reconciliation and waking up to the disappointment of knowing that, apparently, there was a brewing hatred on his end. Something else was wrong.

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React Here: How are you finding support?

I feel like I’m miss the experience of a Betty Handelman putting her hand on mine over a cup of tea and sharing a quote from one of her scrapbooks. Sure, Betty could easily post it onto my Facebook wall, but is that enough when you’re fighting breast cancer?

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Is this what I have to look forward to?

Are a breast cancer patient’s tissue expanders a viable threat to national security? How far is too far?

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Survivor Story: Betty Handelman of New City

Peter D. Kramer has this story from Sunday’s Journal News about Betty Handelman of New City:

In 1987, Betty Handelman’s gynecologist told her she had breast cancer.

“It was very sobering,” says Handelman, of New City. “I remember it vividly and will never forget it.”

She had been having regular mammograms, but the large lump her doctor felt that day hadn’t been there six months earlier. The physician ordered a new mammogram immediately.

Handelman was 49, married, with an 18-year-old son and a 13-year-old daughter. And she had stage 2 breast cancer.

“I didn’t know anyone who had ever been diagnosed with cancer and survived, any cancer,” she says. “That was not a good thing.”

Photos by Seth Harrison / The Journal News

She had surgery to remove her right breast and two lymph nodes, and went through six months of chemotherapy. She joined a support group.

“(I saw) other people who had been where I was at that time and they had hair,” she says. “That began to improve my outlook: If they could do it, I might make it, too. I turned the emotional corner.”

Before too long, she was running the meetings, evolving from someone who knew no one with the disease to a facilitator in a community of women sharing their difficult journeys.

Attitudes toward cancer were different then. The word was spoken in hushed tones behind closed doors. Now there are pink ribbons, pink wigs and three-day walkathons.

“It’s very vocal now, and they’ve raised awareness, all of which is a good thing because it demystifies the whole disease,” Handelman says.

She sought inspiration in the words of others.

“I used to collect quotations, pithy proverbs by really sharp people,” she says. “I had them in a shoe box and I would take them out and look at them. My husband said ‘Instead of doing it in a shoe box, why don’t you get a blank book and copy them in? Then you could peruse the pages of the book.’ So I made myself a volume of quotes.”

Day after day, she’d write out quotes — in her curling, meticulous penmanship. Its effect was immediate.

“The writing exercise, the reading of the quotes, the attention that I spent on that, when I was doing that I was not thinking of dying. And that gave birth to a mania. I have made hundreds of these books, and given them to patients and friends.”

Her favorite quote comes from cancer patient Jane Rodney: “There is life after cancer diagnosis. We don’t know how many days we have yet to live. But we didn’t know that before the diagnosis, either. The important difference now is that we recognize life’s fragility and the value of a second chance. We have a new lifetime partner: Hope.”

After the jump,  10 things Betty Handelman took away from her battle with breast-cancer.

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