My Journey to Hope, through Breast Cancer

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Here I am, at 61, and life is still unfolding. How fortunate am I?

For Kathryn. For Kim. For Maria Cristina. For Laura. Who were not so fortunate.

“Why love what you will lose?
There is nothing else to love.”
― Louise Glück, Triumph of Achilles

During the two years I dealt with my own breast cancer, I lost four friends. Two were colleagues as well. Two were women I met in treatment, who supported me in my recovery, even as their own faltered. I would never pretend to know the reasons, to presume to understand why I am still here, and they are not; beloved, each of them.

Who can fathom what will shake the foundation of a particular individual human being? For me, it wasn’t the diagnosis of breast cancer, but the betrayal and loss that preceded it 15 months earlier, a time when I’d felt happier, more secure, and more confident than I’d ever been. After, I never felt less resilient, less capable or less confident of navigating my way through the unexpected disaster that was suddenly my life. For the first time, I was utterly unable to make sense of it. I lost faith. I lost my way. I lost my hope, and even the desire to hope again. From that darkness and despair – eventually, over years – emerged a sense of myself that was stronger, clearer and more authentic than any time previously.

But when you’re in the middle of it, oh Lord… If you have been through the dark night of the soul, you know. And if you haven’t, well, it’s a mixed blessing, but having come through, I wouldn’t wish it any different. Sometimes losing it all helps you find what was lost all along. Even happiness.

I do not forget the darkness and despair even though it no longer has power. When you are in it, you don’t know dawn lies ahead. There is only darkness. I never considered suicide, but there were moments I thought it would be okay to die.

I dragged myself through that for a relentless 15 months, month after month of weeping that relieved nothing, pushing myself, groping towards something I could no longer feel. When I didn’t quite see the light, but began to trust it would be there: that’s when I found the lump.

I’m no fool. I got an appointment, I got a biopsy, I got a diagnosis. I researched, I made decisions, I moved forward again. At least there was something to do. Perhaps it was hubris, but I never thought it would kill me. Not after what I had already been through.

At our best, we are alchemists. We take the pieces of the Universe we are given, burnish them with love, and return them in better condition than we received them. Initially, the only way I knew how to make sense of my experience was to put it at the service of others. To light the journey of Persephone, as my dear friend Kathryn would say: the journey down into the Underworld, and back up into life again.

But now I would add this: I want to let you know that, oddly enough, most unexpectedly, and in ways I never could have imagined, this has been my journey to happiness, love, and a resilience much deeper than before.

I intend to to pay it forward. In the end, all that matters is how we love.

“Who cares if there was really any Being to pray to? What mattered was the sense of giving thanks and praise, the feeling of a humble and grateful heart.” – Dr. Oliver Sacks, RIP

3 thoughts on “My Journey to Hope, through Breast Cancer

  1. Wow Fran,
    When I first met you, I thought you were one of a kind, an exceptional and wonderful person. Now I know that is the case. Thanks for helping me and all the others over the years. You said you will pay it forward. I think you’ve been doing that all along.
    Larry Gaito


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