publisher's note

The education of cancer


By Louise Sukle

“Everyone who is born holds dual citizenship, in the kingdom of the well and in the kingdom of the sick,” Susan Sontag wrote in “Illness as Metaphor.” A cancer patient herself when she penned the essay in 1978, Sontag wrote, “Although we all prefer to use only the good passport, sooner or later each of us is obliged, at least for a spell, to identify ourselves as citizens of that other place.”

Most of us take the cooperation of our body for granted. When we’re healthy, our bodies effortlessly respond to our will. But in illness, the body can be frustratingly resistant and unaccommodating. If nothing else, illness is an lesson in how much every single part of our body actually matters.

We’ve all heard that being positive helps people overcome their illness. But positive thinking means very different things to different people.

I know many women who responded to their breast cancer diagnosis by looking at it as a battle to be won. But my mom and a few of my friends bluntly rejected that kind of talk. Their cancer was something to be endured and coped with, not some race to win.

In whatever kind of a “race” or “battle” life may have in store for us, no one wants to feel like a failure for something beyond their control. Sometimes the end is restored health. But sometimes it is not. “Some days cancer has the upper hand, other days I do,” wrote Kate Granger in “Having cancer is not a fight or battle” for The Guardian. “I refuse to believe my death will be because I didn't battle hard enough.”

Granger wrote that instead of reaching for the traditional battle language, “[life] is about living as well as possible, coping, acceptance, gentle positivity, setting short-term, achievable goals, and drawing on support from those closest to you.”

Woman columnist Deb Becker remembers the moment her doctor told her she had cancer.  “In that dark moment, I lost the façade of control over my life.” But facing her mortality in what she describes as a “wondrous and painful process,” also taught her about self-love. Read her heart-warming story, “My big cancer makeover.”

The idea is to find what works for you. Even if you feel out of control, there are still ways you can take charge.

When you read about the Triano family in this edition you wonder how they cope in the wake of so much loss. This family knows first-hand the devasting effects of cancer: Betty Triano lost her husband and two daughters to the disease and was herself diagnosed with breast cancer in 2012.

Through their grief, Betty and her surviving daughters, Karen, Joan and Diane, established a fund to help uninsured women get breast cancer screenings. The Triano women also chose to have genetic testing and regular screenings. If cancer is found it can be treated in the early stages.

I want you to consider this edition of Woman a community where you can feel supported, informed and less alone and, as Deb Becker said, “stay focused on the precious gift of the present moment.”