Science Mom

Science Mom

From Chicken Soup for the Breast Cancer Survivor's Soul

Science Mom

Your first emotion isn’t, “Am I going to lose my breast?” It’s, “Am I going to lose my life?”

Linda Ellerbee

Telling people I had breast cancer was something I dreaded. Why? Because I was afraid of their reaction—that it would weaken me, that we would both cry, that we would fall apart. Most of all, I was worried to tell my parents.

Luckily, I was guided by Ted, a wise friend who had been through the journey before. He had lost his first wife to cancer, and he was well-versed in the strange and separate world that one enters after hearing the words, “You have cancer.”

“Keep it simple,” he said. “Stick to the facts.”

He urged me to find out the exact medical terminology for my type of cancer and use those terms when describing it to people for the first time. “If it’s a small ductal carcinoma, the easiest type to treat,’ then that’s what you should say.”

I practiced saying it a few times until it rolled off my tongue easily. I called my mother even though I was very worried about what her reaction might be. I didn’t want to scare her, or have her fall apart.

“Hi, Mother, I have some news about my recent mammogram I need to tell you. They found a small ductal carcinoma, the easiest type to treat, with the best success rates.”

I waited for her terrified response. To my utter shock, her reaction was quite the opposite—she was wonderful. She just listened, then asked intelligent questions, and then asked more questions about the scientific aspects. She became “science mom.” It was great.

Gradually, I became aware that I come from a family of strength. I got this image of my family of strong but feminine women, of which I’m a part. I don’t know what I thought my mother would say—she had always been strong in crises, and I felt really confident after talking to her. I told her it would be okay to tell everyone—in fact, I would welcome it. My fear of telling others turned out to be nonsense because everybody has been fantastic—very strong and calm.

And I know that Ted’s advice made it possible for all of us to pass through this frightening phase of the emotional and medical journey of breast cancer. Knowledge is power, and the ability to simplify and understand the enemy made it easier for me, my family and friends to deal with it. He gave the fear a name, and when something has a name it is robbed of its power.

Mary Olsen Kelly

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