Several years later while cleaning out “stuff” from cupboards and drawers, I found a newspaper clipping I had saved. It was from the Los Angeles Times, written by Laurie Becklund, and titled, “Living, and Dying, with Breast Cancer.” I had forgotten about it and had tucked it away some time ago. I do not know for sure when it was written, but it struck so many chords for me. She so aptly described so much of what I feel and have witnessed about our cultural and personal views about cancer.
Laurie starts with, “I am dying, literally at my home in Hollywood, of metastatic breast cancer, the only kind of breast cancer that kills. I’ve known all along that I was going to die, I just didn’t know when.” Laurie was told a couple of weeks before Christmas, the doctors would not promise that she would make it into 2015.
Laurie made her friends promise never to say she died “after fighting a courageous battle with breast cancer.” Or ever wear a pink ribbon in her name, or ever drop a dollar into a can for cancer “awareness for early detection for a cure.” Laurie expressed my sentiments. The millions raised for early detection, like the Susan B. Komen cancer drive money, are not the answer to a cure. It says the message that early detection is the way, the truth and the light.
Laurie stated that she is living proof that early detection does not cure cancer. She had more than 20 mammograms; and none of them caught Laurie’s disease. Laurie believes “that they may result in misdiagnoses, unnecessary treatment, and radiation overexposure.” I agree with her.
In 1996, Laurie found a peanut-sized lump in one breast; she had a lumpectomy and a short dose of radiation. Five years later, she was told there was little chance of recurrence of the cancer and was told to “have a good life.” Yet 13 years after the original diagnosis, she was diagnosed with stage four cancer in the bones, lungs, liver and brain. This was a death sentence, “with a life expectation of three years.”
Laurie was too scared and too private, she said, to tell anyone. I think her fears about her professional life were well founded and I believe exist, at least psychologically if not legally, today. Who would want to hire, promote, give writing contracts to, or otherwise invest in such a “short-term person.”
Her daughter, her husband, and three friends were the only people who knew. Who, she asked, would remember her as Laurie, the valedictorian, Pulitzer Prize winner, the brilliant writer of award pieces, and all the other successes that had built her career. Who would ever look at her the same again?
I think she was so correct. They would see Laurie who had terminal cancer. A “terminal cancer” label is much like the scarlet letter, emblazoned on your forehead, it seems, with an accompanying attitude of pity and sorrow for the death sentence. I realize that prayer and thought can be positive, but I believe with cancer that prayers and thoughts can be surrounded with negativity and fear; that environment cannot help. Culture produces this attitude of negativity. So many negative thoughts in the universal energy supply can only produce a negative effect.
Laurie said it took her more than two years to connect with others like her at the Metastatic Breast Cancer Network Conference. Laurie relates her experiences; most had not metastasized to all four places breast cancer invades. Laurie did what so many do to try to explain this crazy disease. She read everything that she could; she went to conferences; she studied the science that was available; she looked at every side of the cancer that she could. She signed on to all the many places she searched as “So I Won’t Die of Ignorance.”
Laurie’s main message is powerful.