Sometimes physical objects can be a surprising source of strength.
Coping with breast cancer treatment isn’t easy, no matter how many casseroles appear on the doorstep, or how often the neighbors pick up the kids from school. Breast cancer patients face a roller-coaster of emotions, ranging from fear and loss to courage and gratitude.
To get through it, women often draw strength from supportive family and friends, and thoughtful texts, emails, and gifts. But sometimes a keepsake or another special object provides a dose of much-needed comfort. We asked four women who have been through treatment to share what that special item was for them.
My grandmother’s wedding ring
"I was diagnosed three days after turning 44. My grandmother died of metastatic breast cancer but never complained. Her name was Sallie Minter, and she was my best friend. The day of my ultrasound where doctors saw my tumor for the first time, I told the ultrasound tech about Grandma and my fear of cancer. I nearly had a panic attack, but I wore her wedding ring to chemo, and it made me feel like she was with me. Even though she passed, I thought if she could go through this, I could too, even if I died. Her ring was such a comfort."
–Andrea, 46, Raymore, Missouri
A very durable Dammit Doll
"I was diagnosed when I was 48, and my mom gave me a Dammit Doll when I first began treatment. Knowing me as she does, she understood I would likely get pretty frustrated with the cancer experience. She was right! While I experienced every emotion that exists at some point in these past five years, the Dammit Doll works for most of them! It’s built to withstand some smacking, and that’s what you are supposed to do with it. When I get frustrated, I grab the doll and smack it on something, as many times as needed. Learning to channel my anger about cancer has been my biggest lesson. It helps me because it reminds me that while yes, cancer is awful, you have to laugh. It also reminds me I have a great mom, which then leads me to focusing on how fortunate I am despite the diagnosis. Mom knew what was coming, and she gave me what she could—something that made me laugh even while I was smacking it around like crazy. Mom knows best."
–April, 53, Foley, Alabama
A pair of sparkly stilettos
"What is it about putting on a pair of stilettos that makes you feel so wow? Cancer can take a lot, but not my sparkle. Wearing these shoes to my mastectomy gave me attitude, and I wanted as much attitude as I could get. I think about how when you go for your prom dress, wedding gown, or any party attire, the shoes make the outfit. Hospital gowns need some bling for sure. Everyone would walk in and stop and smile. I was dubbed “the diva in heels,” and I was completely fine with that. Sometimes those stilettos sat at the end of the bed because I physically could not put them on. The pain, the medication, the surgery were all taking over. But they were never far from reach, always there to remind me that there was strength in a shoe, in me. I wanted to be reminded that somehow I was going to still be able to walk in those again, even if at that moment I could not."
–AnnMarie, 45, Syracuse, New York (Check out AnnMarie's blog, Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer, here.)
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My 'What Cancer Cannot Do' bracelet, and my tattoo
"I was diagnosed in May 2013, at the age of 51. I had a lumpectomy, lymph node removal, radiation, and chemo. I now have swelling in my right arm and hand from the lymph node removal.
I have always been fascinated with tattoos, but I did not have one when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. When I was diagnosed, I promised myself that when I was finished with treatment, I'd get one. At that time, I didn't know how much it would help me through the scary times. When I am feeling fearful about anything breast cancer-related, I will place my left hand over the tattoo (it's on my left side ribs) and breathe deeply. It may sound silly, but I do draw strength from it.
I also draw strength from a bracelet given to me by the daughter of a friend who passed away from stage 4 breast cancer. The bracelet says: "What Cancer Cannot Do - It Cannot Cripple Love - It Cannot Shatter Hope - It Cannot Corrode Faith - It Cannot Eat Away Peace - It Cannot Destroy Confidence - It Cannot Kill Friendship - It Cannot Shut Out Memories - It Cannot Silence Courage - It Cannot Reduce Eternal Life - It Cannot Quench the Spirit." I wear the bracelet when I need extra strength, like when going through a biopsy, scan, labs…anything that I'm fearing. I also wear the bracelet to honor my friend on her birthday and the anniversary of her death."
–Mary, 53, Highlands Ranch, Colorado