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  • Debbie Kerr

Before I had cancer

Three women on the beach laughing

Having breast cancer is really a learning experience. You’re not limited to learning lots of medical information. You learn about life in general and about your relationships. You learn a lot about yourself and how you react to a stressful situation.





What I learned

Before I had cancer I never…

  • Thought that I would get cancer in the first place.

  • Knew there were so many more signs of breast cancer than a lump.

  • Fully appreciated what other people with cancer were going through.

  • Realized that cancer is a family disease because its impact goes well beyond the patient.

  • Knew that I could be so emotionally strong.

  • Understood that a positive attitude is essential, but so is letting out and dealing with emotions as they surface.

  • Believed that losing my hair and wearing a wig could get me more compliments than my real hair.

  • Appreciated my network of family and friends, including my co-workers.

  • Thought there could be anything funny about cancer...complete with enough fake boob and wig stories to fill a book.

  • Realized that cancer patients will laugh at experiences that would make other people cringe.

  • Knew I could learn so much in such a short period of time.

  • Thought the words, “I’ll pray for you” could make me cry.

  • Recognized that just sitting with someone without saying a word can be the most powerful and comforting action that anyone can take.

  • Knew that showing your breasts to so many medical people would make it seem like the most natural thing to do.

  • Realized the importance of standing up for yourself to ensure that you receive the best possible medical treatment.

  • Appreciated that my sense of humour was actually a gift.

  • Knew that depression and anxiety can occur after treatments have ended.

  • Realized that even once my treatments ended there still would be the fear of the cancer returning.

  • Thought that I would step so far out of my comfort zone to do new things, like writing my book and doing presentations to share my newfound knowledge.

  • Understood that life will never go back to exactly the way it was before cancer, but it still can be great.


Now that I've had cancer

Now that I’ve had cancer I have a new appreciation of my mortality. I still wonder if I will be here to watch my second son get married. I wonder if I will get to see any grandchildren from either of my boys. But these are fleeting thoughts and I don’t dwell on them. The issue is that those thoughts are always there in my subconscious. Prior to cancer, it would never have occurred to me that I might never reach my retirement age. My ignorance was bliss, but now that I have opened Pandora’s Box the thoughts have been released and cannot be completely put away.


On the plus side (and it’s always good to look for one) I’m more aware of what I can do. I’m more in tune with my feelings and have a better appreciation of when enough is enough. Life is too short to allow people to treat you with disrespect. You deserve more. Demand more. Recognize your worth. Be empowered and do all those things that you never thought you could do. Take this opportunity to learn not only about cancer, but about you as a person and what you can achieve.


Just as each of us is unique, so is what we learn from our cancer experience. The important thing to remember is that cancer can be an opportunity to learn and grow, even when you just want it to go away so that your life can go back to normal.

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