Barbara Bellinger

For years I taught a financial management for women seminar and would introduce the topic with a story about how my mother taught me to survive, to achieve, and to share what I know with others. I would think to myself, “Well, I can take care of myself. I’ve got survival covered and I’ll keep working on the achieving and sharing part, because, after all, I am a person who enjoys the role of mentor and advocate.”

In 1997 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my mother’s teachings took on a whole new dimension. Now, I had to think about surviving in a new light. It’s a scary thing to have to face the “Big C”, the unmentionable disease, so often spoken hopelessly in a whisper, CANCER, and to understand in your gut that survival no longer means just providing food or shelter, drinking enough water, exercising and taking vitamins. In truth, I thought I was going to die soon, and I was frightened at the prospect of being separated from loved ones and not getting to realize some of my dreams. My family was in shock, and so were my staff members, who cried when I told them at a staff meeting.

First, my values and church upbringing told me that I couldn’t get through this crisis without God’s help, and so I engaged in a daily process of fervent prayer, quiet reflection and journal and prayer writing. Second, my background in project management and problem analysis kicked in. I gathered information, asked many questions, took notes in examining rooms, talked to doctors, friends, and to clergy. Third, my family rallied around me. My husband and daughters stuck close by, cheerful and willing to do anything to help me feel more comfortable and less fearful. Fourth, my priest and friends from church prayed with me and for me on Sundays, at meetings, at my house the night before my surgery, at the hospital immediately before the surgery, and their prayers continue. Fifth, my employer, People’s Bank, was understanding and supportive of my need to be away from work for surgery and facilitated my transition out and back in a way that helped to ease my fear about getting the work done and meeting my professional goals.

Little by little, in all these events leading up to surgery and following, I began to realize a few things. I was able to get through each day and feel more positive and less frightened. I was praying for strength, courage, and healing and I was getting it in a lot of ways. After receiving a good prognosis, I knew that I had to be open and share my experience for the benefit of others. In November 1997, I had a lumpectomy and, of 14 lymph nodes removed, all 14 tested negative for cancer. The following January I began seven and one half weeks of radiation. My prognosis is good and the feelings of cold comfort have been replaced by warm feelings of being blessed with the gifts resulting from early detection.

I believe that the measure of the kind of person you are can be found not in what life deals you, but how you handle what life deals you. Let’s deal with cancer through early detection. It’s a gift you can give yourself.


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