Piecing back a life

As I face life after breast cancer treatment, I find I have more questions than answers about how to move forward. So I’ve decided to refocus my blog to examine the lives of the brilliant, successful, fun and happy women who have gone before me as breast cancer survivors. I have separated out the concrete steps they took to get them to where they are today.  I hope to find answers in their experience, strength and hope.

When Sally Creswell was diagnosed with breast cancer in August 1991, she was unemployed, separated and living in an apartment with no furniture.

“In treatment I was just going to get through it. I told myself ‘I can do this.’ But when I was done, no one was watching me. It’s like suddenly you are totally on your own and I was afraid of how my life was changing.”

She was 35 and still wanted children, even though doctors told her not to try, as the high estrogen levels could trigger a recurrence.

“I was feeling a lot of uncertainty for the future, helplessness because I was no longer doing anything,” she said. “There was also some anger about the anxiety I was going through every time I went back for a check up or scan.”

And then there were the unanswered questions: Why me? Will it come back? Will I know if it comes back?

“I had grown up with the message cancer always kills and I was questioning how long I would live, because the statistics were horrible and no one in my immediate family had had it.”  Family members added to the anxiety by expressing their fears that this could be her last birthday or last Christmas.

Not only had breast cancer robbed her of a chance to have her own children, but it detoured her career. The company she worked for had gone bankrupt. While she had plenty of lucrative job offers, she had to refuse them in order to undergo breast cancer treatment.

“I felt out of control and that my life would not be the same,” she said.

Still, she started her own business just as she was starting treatment for breast cancer.  And that gave her something to focus on as she tried to piece back together her life.

“The first thing I did after treatment was get a higher neck bathing suit. I exercised more and went to the beach a lot,” she said.  She found the sound of the waves and the salt air calming.

She also started reassessing her life, her relationships and what she wanted in life.

“I wallowed for a while,” she admitted. “I did not like the person I was after treatment because in my head was the thought that my life was over.”

To pull out of it, she read a lot of self-help books, joined Alanon, journaled, saw a therapist, went on antidepressants for a time and put together a plan.

“I think I journaled some and figured out all the obstacles that were holding me back, where I was unhappiest and decided I had to change those things,” she said. “One thing I decided was that I needed to get out and meet people

“I also think cancer made me realize who my friends were and who they weren’t and that I needed to make better friends and get out of the life I was living.”

Within a year, she had built the business enough to get a mortgage and buy a house in Frenchtown, a small community along the Delaware River. There she got involved in the business association, Alanon and other community groups, where she formed deep, lasting friendships.

Still, there were times fear crept in at night as she tried to sleep. “When I was really anxious, I had a mantra ‘In with the good, out with the bad.’

“What Alanon taught me is that worrying about something you have no control over is just stupid.  Exercise, eating well, you can control that. But otherwise, you just have to remember time counts now, so make the best of it. Be good to yourself and every now and then pamper yourself.

3 Steps to Take

These are the steps breast cancer survivor Sally Creswell took to get her life back on track:

1. Make a list of all the obstacles in your life and what you need to do to change them.

2. Get out and make some new friends. Look in the newspaper or go to meetup.com and see if there’s a group you want to get involved in.

3. Find a mantra that works for you in the anxious moments – such as “In with the good (inhaling) and Out with the bad (exhaling).”

Recommended books:

These are the books breast cancer survivor Sally Creswell recommends:

Codependent No More, by Melody Beattie

Love, Medicine and Miracles, by Bernie S. Siegel.

Liz Johnson

Liz Johnson

Writer. Blogger. Advocate. Breast Cancer Conscript.