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.