Have you ever had a time in your life when you felt like everything was in place? A time when you thought, “I am blessed and content. Life is good.”
Out of nowhere, the rug is ripped right out from under you. Your life is turned upside down and inside out.
It could be illness, loss, financial crisis or simply unexpected change. Your spirits are crushed, hopes dashed, faith shaken.
Well, I’ve been there, and as I look back, I assure you: You will get through it, standing taller and feeling stronger.
Breast cancer was my bam, and it was a massive wakeup call.
Five years ago, when I was 54, I was blindsided with a diagnosis of Stage II “Highly Irregular Ductal Carcinoma” — a fast growing tumor — in my right breast, a tumor that my initial mammogram did not detect.
Oh, I certainly did feel and was terrorized by a lump. Yet, its irregular shape made its detection a challenge for professionals. It was only after receiving a standard letter saying that my mammogram was clear that I picked up the phone and requested further testing.
I knew something was not right. I acted on my intuition — something, I’ve learned, that is often hard for women to do.
There is no “good” type of breast cancer, yet the phrase “triple negative” carries a heavy weight.
The disease is less understood than other types of breast cancer. Although triple negative breast cancer tends to have poorer survival rates than other types, this blunt statistic hides a slightly more optimistic situation.
Yes, there is a higher chance that the cancer will come back within five years. Yet, once that hurdle is cleared, then the chances of survival are greater – something that rarely gets mentioned when people talk about this monster.
In a flash, I received an eyeopening crash course in the world of breast cancer research and treatments.
I decided to have a mastectomy and reconstruction — first on my right breast, then the left — then six months of chemotherapy.
My message to all survivors: Once you’ve pro-c e s s e d t h e sh o c k a n d allowed yourself anger and a brief time to grieve, then reach out and trust others.
Get the information you need to choose what works for you.
Push past the fear and own the decisions you make to fight this beast.
One thing that helped me: I drank an organic tea — Essiac tea, available at health food stores — throughout treatment, and I believe this helped ease nausea during treatment. I also kept up my routine of doing yoga and Pilates.
Today, I have passed the five-year survival mark — and I am ever grateful to my oncologist, Dr. Elisabeth McKeen, who has constantly cheered me on. Her compassion is a gift.
Other gifts were the lessons my cancer taught me: First, that the unexpected bams we experience can give new meaning to our lives.
Before I got breast cancer, control, discipline and routine owned me. Things always had to be done and in order, at a frenzied pace. Today, I work on slowing down and taking my time to look at the landscape around me.
I’m learning to shed my need for control and place greater trust in letting things happen naturally.
Today, my life post-cancer is nothing short of panoramic. I am more open, more loving to myself, more vulnerable.
Think about it: When we are not completely comfortable with ourselves, we guard our insecurities and isolate our true selves.
When we are vulnerable, we experience true connection — respect for ourselves — and we then attract others who are inspired by our openness.
So, I encourage everyone to show your complexities. You will be pleasantly surprised.
More than anything else, cancer has strengthened my view and value of our human connection, and the significance of human kindness that means so much more than things. I now know that our human spirit can overcome and soar above adversity.
I am humbled to be healthy and alive today. This life is a gift, every day is a gift.
Our ability to achieve does not define us! It’s our ability to love and be compassionate to others using whatever gifts God has given us that defines each of us. So, do what you can while focusing on what’s important.
I’m now learning, with practice, to stop talking long enough to really hear what others have to say. When we invite others to share their fears and concerns — their story — we all benefit and feed off a renewed sense of mutual respect and enthusiasm.
My message today: Find your life.
Embrace it. Own it. And live like crazy.
Sally Ann Nisberg’s message to breast-cancer patients: “Once you’ve processed the shock and allowed yourself anger and a brief time to grieve, then reach out and trust others.” Sally Ann’s journey of opening up her life after cancer became a book, “Live Like Crazy.“ Available at LiveLikeCrazy.org and Amazon.com