Second Act Living: After A Breast Cancer Diagnosis

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Like every other woman, I suppose, I anticipated my “second act” to include the changes wrought by menopause, retirement from a decades-long career in the corporate world and plenty of time to enjoy the good life with my husband. What I did not anticipate was a diagnosis of breast cancer from somewhere out in left field.

Now, before you flip past the rest of this article in search of something more uplifting, please know that I am a survivor and my words are intended to be strong and inspiring. You see, I am a breast cancer survivor in the twenty-first century. I am part of a new generation of women, and sometimes men, who can be handed this diagnosis and rise above it. Facing one’s mortality can be empowering and life-affirming.

The early days after my diagnosis were frightening – I would be lying to try to say anything different. The words “breast cancer” carry so much risk and fear and crazy thoughts of impending doom. For some, still, that can be the outcome. For so many more of us, there is still life – all the more sweet because we have tasted the fear of the final days that will eventually come to us all.

A diagnosis of breast cancer brings many more questions than answers at first. Fortunately, medicine today is better equipped to supply those answers than might have been the case a generation ago. There was a clear path to treatment for me and my superior medical team carried me from denial and fear to recovery and hope.

Breast cancer treatments can be complicated and involved. They are certainly not a case of one simple procedure and life returns to normal. I would be remiss to even hint at any such scenario.

What I would like to say, however, is that normal, or near normal, can return. I still believe I have decades ahead of me to enjoy that good life with my husband that I previously anticipated. I still get to travel (rather extensively, I might add), I get to dine out with friends and family, I eat well, exercise and feel like my efforts are making me stronger and healthier day by day.

Breast cancer has opened my eyes to the fragile, temporary experience of life. While I would hesitate to give my breast cancer diagnosis any credit for giving me a “gift” from the whole experience, I do think it gave me one vital resource to expand my life – a sense of urgency. It’s no longer good enough for me to simply take satisfaction in goals already accomplished. My second act can give me the time to pursue the passions that have always defined me, even though I often marginalized them while taking on the more traditional responsibilities of adulthood.

Retirement from decades in the corporate world allows me the luxury and freedom to pursue a lifetime passion as a freelance writer without fear of impending bankruptcy. I write to inspire. I write to encourage. I write to free my mind from the tangle of confused thoughts that take residence there. This knowledge is not new to me – but breast cancer has made it real.

I am aware (maybe too aware) of my mortality now. This is a double-edged sword of learning to live in the moment, knowing it could all change in an instant, and being just a little too vigilant (paranoid?) about how my body feels on any given day. I spend (too much) time reading about the latest studies or clinical trials that might come in handy should I ever walk this path again.

Up until my breast cancer diagnosis, I was incredibly fortunate with my health. I have never broken a bone, been hospitalized for anything other than a gallbladder removal, or been diagnosed with any chronic ailment. I have always felt reasonably good in the skin I’m in and always looked optimistically towards a positive future.

Since my breast cancer diagnosis, I have been slapped in the face with reality. I will not get out alive (none of us will) and so, armed with the knowledge of one who would not have experienced such a life-affirming outcome a generation ago, I have a renewed appreciation for the meaning of each and every day. Each day I look around me and try to love a little stronger, forgive a little more easily and engage a little more deeply.

The life I have today may look very different tomorrow. It may be me, it may be those I love and need in my life – change will come in some fashion. Today, I have the gift of a full life. I have never appreciated it as much as I do now, having once feared it would be taken away or irreparably altered forever.


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1 Comment

  1. Shirley Fisher-ciancetta on

    After meeting you, Leann, on the day America celebrates her independence and now reading your message of encouragement and hope, I see a woman who is standing wide open to change and new experience. So many of us are afraid to look beyond a challenge. I congratulate you on finding your voice and quietly urging each one of us to do so no matter what difficulty or life-altering issues may cross our path. You’ve had an awakening and now choose to recognize how delicate each day can be. We live within a framework of fragile experience…… every one of us. What I hear from you is commitment to make every experience (every moment) matter. As the ancient Zen proverb tells us “In walking, just walk. In sitting, just sit. Above all, don’t wobble.” LIFE IS GOOD. Keep sharing your experiences, Leann. Stay within each moment of your life then make the decisions that bring you your freedom.

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