Thursday, October 29, 2009

Life with Breast Cancer: a visit with author ANNE MARIE BENNETT

Grab your cocoa, coffee or tea, faithful readers ... and settle in to read an account of MY experience reading BRIGHT SIDE OF THE ROAD: A Spiritual Journey Through Breast Cancer, by author and seven-year breast cancer survivor Anne Marie Bennett.

I first "met" Anne Marie about 10 days ago, while visiting my friend Karen's blog, Square-Peg Reflections ( ) ... and I immediately sent Anne Marie an e-mail, asking if I could host her on my blog for a virtual BLOG TOUR. {You, too, can host Anne Marie on YOUR blog ... check her site for all the details !!}
So, everyone, "meet"Anne Marie:

So here's the deal: Anne Marie journaled her way through her breast cancer - diagnosis, two surgeries, twelve weeks of chemotherapy, and forty-two radiation treatments. As Anne Marie says so poignantly in her book, "Holy Mother of God. Cancer. The C word. I've known this all along, but suddenly the realization creeps up on me and wham! I am startled into amazement whenever I think of it this way."

Starting with her diagnosis; as she sits in the waiting room of the clinic where she's been sent for a follow-up to her routine mammogram, this is what she goes through:
"One by one the four other women are given the thumbs-up-you-can-go-home-now sign from the older woman behind the counter. One by one, I watch them leave. I close the magazine and think of statistics. What is it, one woman in eight that ends up with breast cancer? Or is it one woman in ten? Six? I can't remember. But how many women do I know who have had breast cancer? Absolutely none. The odds are not in my favor. This realization dawns on me slowly as I lay the magazine down on the table beside me and look around at the empty waiting room. What if today, I am the woman who doesn't get the thumbs-up sign?".

And then there's the biopsy. And the waiting that comes after. And then, the conversation with her doctor. Followed by ...
"Dazed and disoriented, I manage to steer myself through the lobby to the ladies room where I sit on the floor of the handicapped stall and cry quietly into my hands. I'm wondering why Dr. Karp didn't say 'You Have Cancer' instead of 'There Were Cancerous Cells in Your Biopsy'. Because no matter how it's phrased, it all boils down to the fact that I have cancer. I. Have. Cancer."

Then there's the wondering that we all go through when something bad happens to us or to a loved one:

"Have I made myself sick? Have I brought this on myself? But how? Feelings not spoken? Bitterness and resentments simmering beneath the surface? Ancient grief buried within my body?"
Who among us has NOT asked those very same, or similar, questions. "what have I done to make this happen?" It's a popular refrain, and a very common reaction to news we don't want to live with. Can you all name a time in YOUR life when you asked those same questions? And if not those, then "why me? why my father? why my child?" ...
I do so love that Anne Marie found encouragement and inspiration from Olivia Newton-John who asked, basically, "why NOT me?" when she walked her own cancer journey.

As a patient myself with plenty of other maladies, I could so totally relate to this journal entry from Anne Marie:
"This gown, this perennial object of hospital fashion, takes away some of my identity, my uniqueness, and instantly labels me 'patient'. I don't like this feeling at all. It puts me at a distinct disadvantage in this day full of doctors."

So - how are you all doing so far? Is this hitting close to home for some of you? TOO close to home for some, I expect. It sure grabbed me and kept me engaged all the way through. Like so many people who love and care for and support those who are living with a cancer diagnosis, I feel mostly helpless in the face of such a foe. Cancer. with that capital C. you know, don't you, that the abbreviation for "cancer" is simply CA ? I've lived my entire life in California, and you all know that CA is also the abbreviation for my home state. I don't much care for them using CA to denote cancer in a patient's chart. Be that as it may, because now I am digressing ...
Anne Marie's story continues:

"I stand on the front porch for a moment and breathe in the fresh air. It's been an entire week since I've stepped out of the house, so this new freedom feels delightfully delicious to me. I go to the bank, to the corner cafe for some chai, and to the grocery store for ingredients for dinner. These errands take only thirty minutes, but I'm completely exhausted, so I climb back into bed and sit for a long time in the silence, first with my journal, and then with a new novel."

Distractions as well as QUIET TIME proved to be quite soothing and healing for Anne Marie, as I assume they would be for me in her situation. I treasure quiet time, and I do like a good distraction from my worries. I really related to her journal entries, too, about just needing to ... nap.

And on my other blog, I intend to also do a blog post (tonight, I hope) about how Anne Marie loves being creative, and the role that art and writing played in her journey, and how they continue to help her heal ... herself, and others.
On life with chemo: "By 1:15 it's over and I'm giddy with relief. I can't believe how normal I feel. It's almost as if nothing's happened at all. I know they told me most people don't throw up during chemo, but I never quite believed them."

On on-line support groups / friends: "I've forgotten how long it takes to bond with people emotionally in 'real time' as opposed to cyberspace, where I bonded with Dawn and Elizabeth so quickly due to the speed and immediate intimacy of email."

So when Anne Marie journals about her oncologist asking her how her SPIRIT is doing, I fall in love with him. "I am in awe that he has asked me this ..." she says. Towards the end of this amazing book, we are reminded to ask anyone we might be supporting through cancer how THEIR spirit is doing ...
And I'm going to end this post with a very eye-opening entry by Anne Marie ... one that I can also relate to, but had probably not thought of in the context of OTHERS feeling this way, too:
"I'm not exactly ashamed of having breast cancer, but I am quite sick of talking about it all the time. No, that's not it exactly. What I'm tired of is worrying about how much the other person already knows, and how much I should tell them, and how they're going to take the news, and how I need to reassure them that I'm going to be all right. I find this exhausting."
I could excerpt the day away, but I am not going to. I want you to visit Anne Marie's site and I want you to order her book. If not for yourself, then for someone who might need to read it.
Anne Marie can be found at: and you can order her book right there on her website! It's going to be the best $14.95 you've spent in ages, I promise you that. It's full of her candor and insight and her PERSONAL journey with breast cancer. It also provides helpful lists at the end of the book for resources, for support, and for affirmations to see you through - whether you are the patient, the family member, the friend, or the caregiver.
Thank you for joining me today on this journey with a breast cancer survivor.
I dedicate today's post to my girlfriends, Marsha and Lori, who are shining inspirational examples for me of how to live graciously with breast cancer. And in loving memory of our friend, Lorraine, who lost her battle with breast cancer ... I think of her all the time.
-- Davielle


Brené said...

Great interview! Love it.

ann said...

Davi, Thank you so much for all the enlightening info you've shared about breast cancer. I always wonder when it will be my turn and when it is, who I would want to share my journey with. You would be one of the first! Bless you!

DH 2Travelers said...

I know some folks still have trouble posting to my Blog, so I've taken the liberty of taking their e-mail note/s and posting them here:

this is fantastic, davi!
thanks for sharin'............


"maybe being brave is no more than
staring down the 'less than' feeling
and stepping up to the 'i am worthy' feeling."

(BTW, 'ter' is TERRI of Bone Sigh Arts, and her inspirational and encouraging art - including note cards and posters, can be found by Googling BONE SIGH ARTS !!!)

CalBuckeye said...

How can this subject still be so raw for me after 9 years? Nine years since I lost my big sis. Sat by her bed as she left this world for a better her two kids and the rest of us were left behind to pick up the pieces of our family's social director being taken away at age 40. And now my dear friend in Ohio- Jackie...her breast cancer is back... in the lungs. The doc says 2-3 years. How dare he! The Bible tells us only God knows. Man does not know...
I wish Annie Marie and all those struggling to beat breast cancer a remarkable victory and a spirit of peace.

squarepegperson said...

Davi, what a beautiful post - i'm so glad you did this. I wondered, when Anne Marie started the blog tour, how a lot of us could come up with different stuff - but every interview has been so fantastic.

I love the way YOU made this so personal - even the title "...a visit with Anne Marie Bennett" - a VISIT - which is wonderful! thank you, thank you!