Living with cancer blog

Cancer survivor focuses on living

By Sheryl M. Ness, R.N. February 12, 2011

Guest blogger and breast cancer survivor MaryEllen Sheppard is our writer this week. She's graciously allowed others to share in her journey.

A video series about her experience, "MaryEllen's Journey — A 5-part breast cancer video series from Mayo Clinic," can be found on the Resources tab on this page. The following is her perspective:

"Living with cancer." I'm struggling with what to write because, fortunately, the phrase doesn't apply to me. My heart and prayers go out to you for whom the words do apply. However, I had cancer. I'm not living with it today. In my mind, there's a huge difference between the two.

Today, after successful surgery and treatment, I get to drop the "with cancer" part and just focus on the "living" part of the equation. Not only do I get to change the focus, I believe I must change it if I'm going to have the kind of future I expect for my family and myself.

Don't get me wrong, cancer's presence is evident. When I look at my chest I see the changes in breast contour and firmness resulting from the lumpectomy and radiation. I see reddened skin from an allergic reaction to surgical tape. The scars from surgery and the placement of a port, although better each day, still seem almost angry in comparison to my pale chest.

This visual reminds me of any number of brick walls marked with graffiti signifying which gangs have laid their claim. Only in my case the territory invaded was my chest and the words tagged and left behind read, "Cancer was here."

What is important, however, is while the evidence is indisputable that cancer claimed its territory in my body, because of the medical expertise of Mayo Clinic and the larger medical community, it didn't claim my life. Equally important, due to the compassion shown by so many, many people, cancer also failed to claim my joyful spirit.

I had cancer. However, like other major challenges I've faced, I'm choosing to learn from the experience and make changes based upon the lessons learned. I'm holding on dearly to the belief this is my life and cancer can't have any more of it. I'm surrounding myself with friends and family. I'm exercising and eating right. I'm doing my best to ensure there is no more territory ripe for the taking. In other words, I'm not living with cancer ... I'm living!

(As always, you're invited to share your comments. And you can find the video series, "MaryEllen's Journey — A 5-part breast cancer video series from Mayo Clinic," on the Resources tab above.)


Sheryl M. Ness, R.N.

Follow on Twitter: @SherylNess1

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Feb. 12, 2011