(Guest blog post by Tami Boehmer, author of From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds)
One thing I love about Lisa’s blog is that it focuses on positivity. When I was first diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 at the age of 38, I vowed that I would not sink into self-pity. I continued doing what I loved, including taking care of my then three-year-old daughter, despite going through aggressive chemo. When it came back and spread to other parts of my body in 2008, it became more important than ever to live my life to the fullest and find hope in what seemed as a hopeless situation.
We went to MD Anderson in Houston for a second opinion. The oncologist there told me and my husband that I would die of breast cancer. When we were in the car, my grief turned into anger. “How does she know how long I had to live?” I said out loud. “She didn’t even know me!” At that moment, I affirmed I was going to prove her wrong.
I had always gained strength from other cancer survivors who had overcome the disease to lead flourishing lives. Faced with a dire diagnosis, I needed to talk with other cancer survivors who didn’t accept doctors’ predictions … people who beat the odds. And I was determined to find out how they did it so I could do it myself.
On one of my daily morning walks, an idea popped into my mind. “Why not write a book about other advanced stage cancer patients and how they beat the odds?” I thought it would be therapeutic for me, and more important, help others. I soon began interviewing cancer survivors from around the country for my book, From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds. And I started a blog called Miracle Survivors, where I featured their stories and more, along with ways to heal the body, mind and spirit.
I shy away from news reports and studies that talk about poor survival rates. Statistics are just numbers that lump together a large, diverse group of individuals. They don’t apply to me, and they certainly don’t apply to the people I’ve interviewed for my book and blog. A perfect example is Ann, who was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer in 1999 and has been cancer-free since Sept. 12, 2001. And there’s Dave, who was told 23 years ago he had six months to live and today is running marathons with no evidence of disease.
I’ve heard so many powerful success stories; it seems beating the odds of terminal cancer is more of a norm, rather than an exception. When I struggle, I think of how the people who shared their stories in my book and on my blog never gave up despite setbacks. And almost all of them are thriving today. It gives me hope and purpose, knowing I’m helping others get through their struggles, too.
I participated in an interesting Twitter live chat a few months ago on metastatic breast cancer. This was the first time I had done a live chat and I was interested in hearing other survivors. I and a few other individuals brought up the subject of hope, and I was a little surprised how the conversation turned to impassioned complaints of being pressured to be positive.
Then I read a guest post on a fellow blogger’s site about the same topic. She stated, “Breast cancer has not made me a better person. It has not transformed my life for the better. I have not gotten some insight into a level of spirituality I was hitherto ignorant of. I have not learned to appreciate the little things.” This obviously is a sticking point for many people.
No one should tell anyone how to feel. We all react to things differently, and it can be detrimental to your health to hold in feelings and pretend to be happy when you’re not. But I don’t think this a black- and-white issue.
Do I always feel grateful and happy? Of course not! I’ve had friends die and suffer immeasurably because of this disease. My family and I have suffered, to be sure. But I want people to know there is another side to this – and yes it is … (dare I say it?) positive.
Hi, I’m Tami and I’m a gratefully recovering pessimist. (“Hi Tami,” the group responds.) I have become an optimist because I choose (choice being the operative word) to remain positive despite negative statistics and reports.
The irony is that, although positivity and hope slowly became part of my MO, it was having metastatic cancer that kicked it into full gear. There’s nothing like a strong dose of mortality to make you realize that life is too precious to waste on being miserable.
If I get worried about death or getting sick, I work through it; then get on with living. My lovely daughter has a way of bringing me back into the moment.
Tami Boehmer is a metastatic breast cancer survivor, speaker, blogger and author of From Incurable to Incredible: Cancer Survivors Who Beat the Odds, available on her web site, Joseph Beth Booksellers, Cincinnati Good Samaritan Hospital gift shop, New Thought Unity Center, Whatever Works, Amazon and BarnesandNoble.com. Through the end of November, Tami is donating 10 percent of her proceeds to the National Breast Cancer Coalition (along with her continual 10 percent to LIVESTRONG). You can visit her at www.MiracleSurvivors.com.