Groucho Marx famously said, “I don’t want to belong to any club that will accept me as a member.”
When I stood up in church recently, during the time when congregation members share their joys and sorrows, I told them, “I have Stage II breast cancer.” A short time later, a member stood up to tell me, “Carol, welcome to the club I know you didn’t want to join. There are many of us survivors here.”
I’m in the “This isn’t fair,” phase of this journey. I have no risk factors that I can identify. I don’t smoke, have no cancer in my family, eat well, exercise moderately and have never been overweight. Fortunately, this has also been the reaction of most of my friends. “That’s so not fair.” A good reaction, that I appreciate.
The other good reaction was from an oncology nurse and friend, a 12-year breast cancer survivor herself, “It has a 92% cure rate now.” A 2007 study of 50,000 patients in 1989 said the statistics were 92% 5-year survival for Stage 0, 75% survival for Stage II. A study from 1999 – 2005 for women of all ages diagnosed with breast cancer put the five-year survival rate at 89%.
Apparently, the days of “The Big C”, when cancer was simply a death sentence, are gone, despite the stubborn reality that more than half a million still die of cancer in the U.S. every year. But three times that many get it.
Telling people, though, is hard. Telling my sons was excruciating, especially the father of my granddaughter, as this has implications for her. I’m told that since there is no cancer in my family, it is unlikely I will be offered genetic testing. I certainly didn’t want to start the line, but every form I fill out in every doctor’s office asks, “Is there breast cancer in your family? If yes, mother? Grandmother? Aunt? Sister?”
I have let my husband tell many of our friends. Several of his aunts and uncles have had cancer and only one of them died from it.
So, my focus this year has changed.
I am trying the alternative cancer treatment I’ve been researching the last five years, but not only does it not have a particularly good track record with breast cancer, it seems not to be affecting mine. Traditional surgery, chemotherapy and radiation treatments are probably in my future.
Instead of the three books I have in the works, I will be using myself as a test case to develop a process for collecting family information, what Thomas Cormier, a personal historian, calls a “Legacy Rescue Plan.”
Many of my posts are already writing prompts for grandparents to remember their own childhoods or stories about their children growing up. But, gathering the stories and photos into a comprehensive whole, suitable for passing down to grandchildren, can seem like a formidable task. Indeed, though I have written more than 1,000 posts in the last three years, have bookshelves full of family photo albums, my grandmother’s cedar chest filled with letters, albums and her wedding dress, and the gift of extensive genealogical material from an uncle, until now, I did not feel the urgency to pull them all together.
Now, I do.
Join me in this journey and together we’ll start collecting the materials for the legacy we want to pass on to our grandchildren.
If all goes according to plan, in six months, I’ll hang out my shingle as a personal historian and help those who need some hand-holding through the process and we’ll build your legacy together. My next post on this subject, Cancer Journey, will describe the first step in the Legacy Rescue Plan, Organization. Start thinking about where all those photos, videos, slides, letters and cedar chests are where you keep all your precious memories.
In the meantime, for those who know me as “The Hat Lady,” as I told my church, “I’ve already got the hats!”
Carol Covin, Granny-Guru
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