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Welcome Guest Blogger Breast Cancer Survivor Liz Shaw

Monday, October 17, 2011

Liz  is an 11 year survivor of breast cancer. She loves angels, dragonflies,wallabies, loves to blow bubbles while watching the sun set, and loves to laugh with friends. By day, she works in the behavioral health field as an administrative assistant. By night, she is writing an epic fantasy. You can find her on the web at TheWriting Reader

Liz Shaw: My Story 

Breast cancer is a life-threatening disease. I'm not talking about mortality here, although certainly it can be fatal. No, I mean it threatens the way you live, the way you view life, the things you believe, in fact, it threatens the entirety of your core being. And that's a good thing.

Before I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I thought I had all the answers. There was something about being diagnosed with a fast-moving, highly aggressive form of breast cancer in March of 2000 that ripped that certainty away from me with a vengeance.

Here are some of the things that breast cancer taught me.

Slow down and appreciate the gifts that every day brings
Before my life changed, I didn't think I had time to stop and look around me. During my journey with breast cancer, I began to notice things like sunsets and dragonflies. I learned that taking time to sit and watch these wonders of nature was powerfully healing. The morning I was scheduled to go for the simulation appointment before starting radiation therapy, I was full of anxiety and fear. I walked out into my driveway and was surprised by a wallaby! In Arizona? What?! That miraculous sighting turned my attitude around, and I went into the appointment laughing and full of the wonder of the gift of living every day.

It's not about what you do; it's about who you are
I was a driven career woman before being diagnosed with breast cancer. Everything was about the job. Even on vacations, I couldn't leave my job behind. I had heard "you're a human being, not a human doing" before, but I didn't know how to apply that to my life. All my self-worth was wrapped up in my doings. That all went away during chemotherapy. I had a tough time with treatment, finishing it with heart damage that verged on heart failure. It was all I could do to walk from the couch to the bathroom and back. Some days that 10 foot trip could take as long as an hour because I had to stop repeatedly to lean against the wall and catch my breath. I could barely take care of myself; there was no way I could do something for anyone else. I learned to accept myself as I am, not as I do. My family and friends will tell you that this has resulted in some wonderful behavioral changes. I no longer need to be right all the time. I don't always need to have an opinion. I enjoy living the questions now, just as Rilke advised the young poet.

We are surrounded by angels
On my first visit to the cardiologist, I noticed that his office had a very obvious theme: angels. They were everywhere. They were all cute, folksy angels, mostly female. Not a Michael or Gabriel in the bunch. I asked him about it. He shrugged and said that his wife's collection had gotten too big for their house, so he had allowed her to decorate his office with them. Then, all business, he told me that my heart would never get better. I would be very lucky if I didn't end up in congestive heart failure after completing radiation. I asked about nutrition and diet. He said that they wouldn't hurt, but that they couldn't rebuild what the chemotherapy had killed. The best I could hope for, he said in a serious tone, was to hold steady. Then he left me in the exam room, alone. No, not alone. With the angels.

A year late I sat in that same exam room, looking at those same angels, while I waited for the results of the latest MUGA scan which would reveal how my heart was working. I believed it was healed. I no longer had to walk along walls. In fact, I was swimming laps and walking every day without getting short of breath. I was just waiting for the tests to prove that a miracle had occurred. The cardiologist walked into the room, looked at me, and shook his head. He put his hand on my shoulder and with a grin on his face he said, "Get out. There are sick people in the world who need my time." Then he hugged me and handed me a copy of the MUGA results. My heart function was not just better; it was better than it had been before I had gone through chemotherapy and radiation.

  The angels who accompanied me on my journey through breast cancer weren't those cutesy folk angels in my cardiologist's office, although those were a visible reminder of the value of hope in a very dark moment. No, my angels were the people who prayed for me every day, people I didn't even know at churches all over the country. They were the people who brought over dinner and did some chores. They were my family and friends who believed in me and walked alongside me on this journey. They were my pets, who gave me unconditional love, even if I didn't have the energy to shower that day and smelled a bit ripe. They were the doctors, nurses, and technologists who listened to me and held my hand, in addition to providing treatment. I was surrounded by angels. And so are you!



  1. Beverly Diehl said...:

    Leaving comments on both blogs - thank you, Debra Ann, for having Liz Share her incredible story here. I've heard before people say "Cancer was the best things that happened to me" for this very reason, sometimes it forces us to take a look at our lives and make some changes for the better.

  1. Pam said...:

    Thanks for sharing Liz! I need to slow down and appreciate the small stuff.
    Great post, very inspiring.

  1. Anonymous said...:

    Such wise words! Several years ago I had a debilitating, though not life-threatening, illness, and I had to learn many of these same lessons. Yet I always need a reminder, and you brought me one today! Thank you.

  1. Thank you for sharing this. I can't begin to imagine what it's like, going through cancer, and it takes a lot of courage to be open about it.

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