Life’s Little Things

We cannot always be self-sufficient nor should we have to be

A 40-something mother goes on holiday with her husband and two young daughters. They have fun relaxing and playing, eating out, playing on the sand and revelling in the sun. One day after a trip to the beach she is taking a shower and discovers a lump in her breast. She panics a little and then reassures herself it is probably nothing serious but resolves to have it checked out on her return home.

It's not nothing. The news that she has breast cancer is so terrifying that she almost faints. The bad news is itís an aggressive grade three cancer but the good news is it is caught early. Full mastectomy is not needed. Lump removal, chemotherapy and radiation therapy will save her breast and her life. Thankfully no one is insensitive enough to be cheerful that this was all that was needed. Isn't it enough?


What my friend remembers most vividly about that life-changing week was the kindness of the cancer nurse who asked how her young daughters were coping with the news. Along with her own fears the last thing my friend wants is her daughters looking in terror at their own developing bodies. The nurses concern and help meant a great deal at such a difficult time.

A surprising aspect to my friend's illness is how it has focused her life. She tells me she no longer sweats the small stuff. Instead, she directs her energies towards enjoying the routine of life between treatments and safeguarding her emotional and spiritual well-being. Regardless of the challenges we face on a personal level we will always be parents. Children will still want us to respond to their needs, answer their questions and bandage their hurts regardless of our capacity or readiness to meet those needs. Children cut through the nonsense of life reminding parents that there is more to them than how they look and in the case of illness, we are more than any affliction we may have. My friend's decision to be open and honest with her children has allowed them to learn together and support each other through the fears and anxieties they all experience through living with cancer.

Emotional scars

There is something particularly insidious about breast cancer; it attacks women on a very personal and intimate level. It seems to undermine the most obvious manifestation of womanhood and attack the life giving potential of mothers. I know a number of women who have had breast cancer all of whom have survived treatment and are busy with their lives but each has been left with emotional as well as physical scars. I know with absolute certainty that none of them could have managed without the support of family and friends. Much as we may like to be, we cannot always be self-sufficient nor should we have to be.

Advances in medicine will take us so far in cancer treatment. Identification of the Braci gene will allow a new generation of women to make choices about preventative treatments for breast cancer but we can always do more. We all know someone affected with cancer, we recognise the heartache, loss and desolation of losing someone beloved. For every individual whose reality changes in the blink of an eye and must shift the focus of their world so catastrophically, there is a volunteer manning a support phone or driving a patient to and from a chemotherapy session.

As parents, friends and human beings, we can all do better at helping. We must also remember that the horrifying prevalence of breast cancer in no way diminishes the devastating consequences for every woman affected by it.