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Living Dreams Deferred: Priorities and Time

The following article is excerpted from Chapter 12 of Advanced Breast Cancer: A Guide to Living with Metastatic Disease, 2nd Edition, by Musa Mayer, copyright 1998, published by O'Reilly & Associates, Inc. For book orders/information, call (800) 998-9938. Permission is granted to print and distribute this excerpt for noncommercial use as long as the above source is included. The information in this article is meant to educate and should not be used as an alternative for professional medical care.

Something we were withholding made us weak until we found it was ourselves. --Robert Frost

Many people with metastatic breast cancer, rebounding from the identity losses of disability retirement, discover that they still have the time, and the need, to reinvent their daily lives, pursuing activities and relationships their careers had put in the background. The imperative of limited time gives them permission to put themselves first.

Lisann Charland, once a management analyst, describes her life now:

I live a plain and simple life, and keep no set schedule. I do what I want to do and when I want to do it. I continuously educate myself on getting well and living with metastatic breast cancer through books, support groups and various meditation/relaxation tapes. I have re-entered college, and become a full-time housewife. I have dedicated a lot of my time doing volunteer work as an auxiliary person at the hospital in the Cancer Unit and the Cardiac Unit. I spend time talking with patients about medication, side effects, questions to ask the doctor, and share what I learned from experiences and support groups. I take time for me.

My passion is gardening, and I spend countless hours weeding, planting, replanting, talking to my plants, etc. I find pleasure in the tiniest of things. I can be guaranteed total relaxation when I am in the garden. I talk and play with my animals and take walks with them. I also stay in close contact, and occasionally go out to lunch with my new friends from church, who include me in all their family gatherings.

Daily, I tell myself that "Lisann comes first." I am No. 1 in this life in each and every way. Living with metastatic breast cancer and all the problems I encountered has taught me to be good and kind to myself. I look for the good side of everything, throw pennies in water fountains and make wishes and pray for miracles.

For Barbara Ragland, her recurrence has spurred plans for travel and the pursuit of long-term interests.

I have always wanted to travel to various parts of the country where my ancestors once lived. Then I want to write accounts of the kinds of lives they lived and adventures they had, challenges they were able to overcome, etc. I have a good start on this already.

With my illness, I plan to do as much traveling as I can now. If my health doesn't permit much traveling later on, this will be the time I start using my notes and tapes to write about what I've found. I have done quite a bit of genealogy research, but have discovered that it's not the dates and names that are interesting, it's the intriguing lives these ancestors have led.

My illness has very much affected plans for the future and an attempt to live more in the present. I no longer say, "someday, I am going to--" I seem to be rushing ahead with household projects. I accept invitations to do things I've never done before. With home improvement projects, I no longer consider a twenty year guarantee. In my financial planning, I have decided to enjoy myself more now and save only the bare minimum for my old age.

I also have learned to enjoy the moment. I am learning not to defer my own wishes. I've started saying "no" when I'd rather not--(whatever). I'm practicing saying "why not?" instead of "why."

Bob Stafford wasn't ready to stop helping people when he retired on disability, so "Mr. Breast Cancer," as he likes to be called, set out on a campaign to educate the public that resulted in national network television coverage and an ongoing discussion group on the Internet for men with the disease.

The biggest thing is to inform people. It used to be absolutely nothing was said about male breast cancer and we were lucky to get a paragraph or even a sentence in breast cancer books. It's starting to change because there are some men willing to be identified with the disease and enough women have embarrassed themselves by saying we weren't survivors. We are though. I might have to wear a pink hat but if one guy catches his breast cancer early because of it, that's great.

From a shared concern about the well-being of their teenaged children, he and Caren Buffum started discussion groups for kids facing illness and death in themselves, a family member or a friend. Another discussion group he began focused on the needs of parents of critically ill children. Despite diminishing energy and increasing pain, Bob persists in his new interests, even though being in touch with many seriously ill people means constant reminders of mortality. When asked why, he says:

Being surrounded by so many hurting people really stresses our own resolve to continue on. But then we must go on so that others might know that there is hope and that it isn't always just death.

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