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Breast cancer: 'Grief, hope, desperation, fury, resignation, camaraderie and … love'
October 18th, 2010
10:30 AM ET

Breast cancer: 'Grief, hope, desperation, fury, resignation, camaraderie and … love'

Last week, freelance writer Amanda Enayati  shared the lessons of her breast cancer journey in a series of five essays on CNNHealth.com.  In turn, readers shared their own stories of strength and survival.  Today Amanda reflects on her resulting tumble of emotions and gratitude.


“I just learned 2 weeks ago that I have breast Cancer, I had a lumpectomy 2 days ago. I also never thought this would happen, 48 y/o, my God I was upset, I said to God I have already gone through so much, I have a 24 y/o with Downs and my life has been a struggle, but something inside me knew, that I had to go through this chapter in my life.”

This is how far I got into the woman’s comment about my first essay before I broke down weeping.

I had not expected the weeping. Or the joyful tears. I had been naïve.

I wrote the series about my experiences with breast cancer for purely selfish reasons: As a writer, it was one of the stories I needed to tell. Cancer has been one of a handful of rough spots in my otherwise joyful youngish life, which has included a revolution, an escape from my homeland, a close encounter with terrorism and a number of personal battles. In the three years since my diagnosis, I have refused to take ownership of cancer as a part of my identity, but I do recognize it as a passage.

What I hadn’t accounted for was that, along with having to deal with the occasional troll or absurdly literal dissector of random turns of phrase in my writing, I had volunteered to cross an ocean of grief, hope, desperation, fury, resignation, camaraderie and … love.

“I have read this time and time again,” wrote Jessica. She was diagnosed at age 16 with Stage 2 cancer with a large tumor. “[I]t’s been nothing but a struggle, but I’ve learned to grow up a lot quicker than I have had to, I feel more sympathy for things and people, I take time to realize that every day is a gift, and I continue to work harder at making sure people are aware that yes, it can happen at an early age.” Jessica signed her note: “Peace, love and remission.”

So wrote the journalist who was forced to flee her home in New Orleans “with my family and a bucket to throw up in after my second round of chemo” in the wake of the havoc wreaked by Hurricane Katrina: “I shun the terminology of war … I was not fighting cancer, I was enduring it … There are no winners or losers or warriors or victims.” When she returned to her flooded home, it was not cancer she was interested in writing about because “to write about it, I would have to face it … so instead, I wrote about the recovery of my city.”

Half of a pair of cancer researchers—a husband and wife team—wrote: “Many days things in our lab get quite discouraging due to the lack of funding and the slow pace of progress. Honestly, sometimes I feel like giving up … But whenever I feel that way, something happens to put a face on our work. Today, you have become one of those faces … a partner with us in our work.” Though humbled, I accepted that honor.

I felt helpless as I read one woman’s pleas about Avastin, a drug whose approval for breast cancer is at risk of being revoked by the FDA : “This drug is helping me immensely. I am stage 4. Please don’t let them take [it] away from me … I cannot afford this drug without insurance coverage.”

There was  Charley, widowed by cancer; Thurston, who spoke out as the voice of those struck with male breast cancer; Sheryl, the divorced working mother who found herself wondering who would care for her 10-year old son and feeling a strange guilt about the fact that hers was caught early;  Burt, who urged me to read "The China Study," which, along with "Anticancer," was virtually my bible in the year after diagnosis; Jennifer, who wanted to laminate one of my essays because it said “things that I cannot say out loud to my family, friends, students”; Laura, who made my day by reporting that she had just had a mammogram and ultrasound—“all negative”; those who protested my addressing breast cancer only and not all cancer; and Sarah and Lydia and Kimberly and Erica and scores of other young women and men whose lives have been irrevocably changed by a cancer diagnosis.

There we were, standing shoulder to shoulder, the frontline of an illness that can devastate, define and perhaps even renew. Though unknown to one another, we are brethren of sorts—bonded through our experiences, our trials, our words of love and encouragement, spoken just as much for others as for ourselves. All of us joined in our collective hope for miracles.

In the end, I found myself returning to that very first commenter whose words of humanity seemed as though they were dictated by an angel:

“I feel even more empathy and want to give of myself even deeper, so here I am, yes here I am world, I refuse to feel sorry for me, I want to live, I want to love, I want to kiss my sons even harder every day. I want to live life without regrets, my Sun is now brighter, my praise is stronger, my dog is sweeter. My coffee tastes better, I will savor every moment He gives me.”

Amanda Enayati’s work has appeared in Salon, the Washington Post, Detroit News, and "Let Me Tell You Where I’ve Been: New Writing by Women of the Iranian Diaspora" (University of Arkansas Press). You can follow her on Twitter @AmandaEnayati or her daily blog, practicalmagicforbeginners.com.


Filed under: Breast Cancer

soundoff (24 Responses)
  1. John Smyth

    On one hand we read about the FDA delaying decisions on critical life saving decisions due in part to resource constraints.

    On the other hand, we read about the FDA dedicating millions of dollars and no lack of resources to ascertain if Lance Armstrong doped ten years ago.

    Mixed priorities?

    October 18, 2010 at 11:37 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. Kathie

    You finally helped put into words the strange feelings I had. My most puzzling feeling was the one you described as "a strange guilt about the fact that hers was caught early." That is how I feel some of the time.

    October 18, 2010 at 12:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Easy E

    We wouldn't have a tumble of emotions if pharma would get off its rear and actually innovate to find solutions instead of market the same old tired stuff year after year.

    We know far more today than even 10 years ago about the myriad forms of cancer. We know the signalling pathways, we know about most of the regulatory genes and microRNAs that are responsible for inducing cancer. We know how to make highly targeted monoclonal antibodies. We know how to screen millions of compounds to find small molecule drugs that can help. We know how to use lentiviruses and adenoviruses to add or excise genes safely in everything from a yeast cell all the way up to humans.

    And yet...hardly anything changes. Clinical medicine is just now taking advantage of the technology of the 1990's...it is perpetually 20 years behind the times. In WWII, we were able to go from hypothesis to mass prodiced drug in a year's time, but with corporate pharma in charge, it takes 20-30 years for anything to change, mostly because all they are interested in doing is relabeling and remarketing drugs from 20, 30, or even 50 years ago. Big pharma is a monolith of lazy monopolist laggards.

    October 18, 2010 at 12:45 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GLR3

      Perhaps the strongest and most inhibiting change since WWII is the dominance of trial lawyers and legal liability in the medical arena. A fact that congress refused to address in their recent health care legislation.

      October 18, 2010 at 14:30 | Report abuse |
  4. Andrew

    Every day on CNN and other news sites I see stories about cancers that greatly affect women. NEVER do I ever see a story on a cancer that greatly affects men. I never see stories on prostate cancer, but every second day I see stories about breast cancer. Listening to CNN you would think that women are dying earlier than men. They would love to show a cancer that is not affiliated with white men, which CNN does not like to cover. In CNNs quest for impartiality they have decided that the best way of appearing impartial is to ingore matters involving, men, especially white men unless they are stories of white men being racist. They will not go to air with many stories involving minorities for fear of inflaming sentiment, but when it comes to white men they will inflame the population with ideas of racist white men.

    October 18, 2010 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
    • darci

      It's breast cancer awareness month. And Breast Cancer does effect men.

      October 18, 2010 at 13:45 | Report abuse |
    • Pat-San Jose CA

      Andrew, Maybe some men aren't so adept at writing stories about their personal experience with cancer? Also, men may historically have died earlier than women, but 1) that is changing and 2) it was due to heart disease and accidents, not cancer. Finally, September was Prostate Cancer Awareness Month in America. President George H. W. Bush, the Senate, and the governors of over 40 states, at the instigation of the National Prostate Cancer Coalition, have signed formal proclamations recognizing this event.

      October 18, 2010 at 13:48 | Report abuse |
    • GLR3

      I agree with you Andrew. The women have a very strong lobbying group and the Komen Foundation. Breast cancer can be defeated when detected early. There are many forms or cancer where little progress has been made – most likely due to lack of funding. An example is pancreatic cancer. Yes, I understand that this is "breast cancer awareness" month – but why isn't it simply CANCER awareness month? All forms of cancer should be addressed.

      October 18, 2010 at 14:35 | Report abuse |
  5. Anna

    I do not want to sound like a miserable conspiracy theorist but deep inside I believe that we are really much closer to either finding cure or a very effective treatment for this disease but what would happen to the drug companies if this really materialized? I believe that as long as the pharma companies are in charge (and yes, they are) we will keep loosing our mothers, sisters, daughters to breast cancer. Breast cancer is a very good business ! They will not just give it up.

    October 18, 2010 at 14:15 | Report abuse | Reply
    • GLR3

      Women can defeat breast cancer through early detection. The key is early detection and women should stay on top of this. It is easy to blame "big pharma" for all of societies ills. However, don't you think that if there were a cure that they would make even more money? Therefore, why would they hold a cure back? Your argument makes no sense.

      Cancer is difficult to control simply because it is always mutating, changing. And cancer is't a single disease, it is hundreds if not thousands.

      October 18, 2010 at 14:42 | Report abuse |
    • ladydi

      Anna – I Agree !!!! There will never be a cure for cancer – just numerous treatments.. When one goes into remission, its only a matter of time before it rears its ugly head once again.

      October 18, 2010 at 15:00 | Report abuse |
    • northwoods

      I am coming to terms of the inevitable fact that I will loose my sister very soon to Breast Cancer's ugly takeover of her being. She has not been able to bounce back after surgery, chemo, and radiation. She is almost totally bedridden between pain and fatigue. She has her three ,young grandchildren to raise, a very loving Husband that cares for her. After the years and BILLIONS in research, it has failed us. I cannot tell you the agony of seeing her pallor, her face etched in pain as she tries to sit up to sip broth. I, on the unfortunate side, will not go forth and gain from her plight. I silently make certain that the ACC pamphlets are at every place I visit. I am the one who cuts those basket full of pink ribbons you see everywhere. I stand for life, not death.

      October 18, 2010 at 17:43 | Report abuse |
    • GLR3

      ladydi – you are incorrect. My mother-in-law has been cancer free for over 30 years! All cancers do not return. She had breast cancer with aggressive treatment – again – 30 years ago. It was caught early. I also have many friends that are breast cancer survivors – each over 10 years.

      northwoods – so very sorry about your sister. My mother died of pancreatic cancer. There is a horrible cancer! Pancreatic. It was less than 30 days from diagnosis until her death.

      October 18, 2010 at 18:50 | Report abuse |
  6. Thurston Murray

    Yes, Breast Cancer doese effect men. I had it 28 years ago, after my physician told me not to worry about my lump, because men never got Breast Cancer–a female Radiologist diagnosed me. I had a Radical Masecomy and 23 Radiation Treatments–Stage 2, Grade3. The fault I find during this month is that nobody hardly ever mentions that 2,000 American Men will come down with Breast Cancer this year. How about put a Blue Streak !

    October 18, 2010 at 15:42 | Report abuse | Reply
  7. Anne L

    I just want to address ladydi... What you wrote is very hard to hear for a survivor who is in remission. To each his own but maybe take that into account before you say something so cold.

    October 18, 2010 at 18:44 | Report abuse | Reply
  8. Pamela

    Your essays are incredibly authentic and beautifully written. I have saved them and will cherish them. I hope to see more of your work on CNN. I was diagnosed earlier this year at 43. I found the lump myself and it did not and would not show up on any mammogram. Only an MRI would be able to detect it. This is not uncommon. People need to be aware that we ourselves are very often our best weapon against cancer. If you suspect something follow up on it. Best wishes to all of you battling this terrible disease.

    October 18, 2010 at 20:39 | Report abuse | Reply
  9. Elle

    I am 46 w a family history of breast cancer. after putting it off for years, i was supposed to get my first mammogram in august but i got salmonella instead & never rescheduled. i am rescheduling it. right away. thank you.

    October 19, 2010 at 02:51 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. jay gilbertson

    This has been one of the most breath-taking journeys I've ever read/experienced/imagined on this site. The sheer courage and brutal honesty (and her incredible writing) Amanda has choosen to share with the world is what is so missing from this pink-ribbon-walkathon-frenzy that nearly forgets the reality that she shoved so brillaintly into the spotlight.

    My only hope is that I can read more of her journey. Her sense of hope and determination and fears and everything in-between is what is so missing in todays ultra-sensationalist reporting.

    Thank you CNN for giving this incredible woman a place where she can do what she does so heart-fully well-will she be doing a follow-up? I want more of her thoughts/words/ideas. So many of my female (and a few men too) friends have found her essays so helpful I just can't tell you....

    Thank you Amanda, you are the breath of hope I've been needing.

    October 19, 2010 at 21:45 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Lisa

    Amanda, thank you for sharing your journey with us. I have just returned from the doctor where I got the results of two biopsies (both benign, thank God.) Nothing showed on my mammogram or sonogram, but because my doctors could feel a lump (and I have a family history), they insisted that I get an MRI and an MRI-guided biopsy. I found myself repeating your words over and over to myself as I lay in the MRI - your words about belonging to your kids and your husband, to the world. Thank you.

    As for ladydi, I know WAY more people who have survived breast cancer than died of it. All we can do is be brave, get our checkups (hopefully with MRI or sonograms, for those of us who are youngish with dense breasts), eat our veggies, exercise, and be hopeful.

    October 20, 2010 at 13:00 | Report abuse | Reply
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Get a behind-the-scenes look at the latest stories from CNN Chief Medical Correspondent, Dr. Sanjay Gupta, Senior Medical Correspondent Elizabeth Cohen and the CNN Medical Unit producers. They'll share news and views on health and medical trends - info that will help you take better care of yourself and the people you love.