Living with Cancer

by Jan Pool Stecher

In 1997, as a newly-diagnosed breast cancer patient, I was told many things:

“You’ll zip right through this.”
“A little denial goes a long way.”
“Watch out, this is a very nasty disease.”

The first statement was inaccurate, the second very true, and the third helpful.

I have been in treatment almost consistently since diagnosis, and it is a very nasty disease. I decided that when I was not in an infusion chair, having radiation, or talking with my oncologist about future treatment, I would not think about the disease. It might have my body but it would not have my mind or spirit.

Recently I read of the Sixties iconic singer, Marianne Faithfull, performing in Manhattan. The writer stated that Ms. Faithful had been staring down her illnesses for 15 years.  This made me consider my own disease. In making treatment decisions, I’ve often come eye to eye with this disease. I’ve had to stare it down when it threatened my life, as it always does on some level.

I do not consider cancer a blessing. It is a scourge, and no more deeply do I feel this than when I see all the very young people in treatment, teenagers, college students and young mothers. Nonetheless, I do believe that the human experience around cancer or any disease can be a blessing.

I look at the many treatments I’ve had and realize how very blessed I am to be dealing with breast cancer in this time. Over the last thirteen years so many miracle drugs, molecular level treatment, vaccines, interventional radiology, and a myriad of other new therapies have come to the cancer patient’s aid. Looking to the future, I know many more are on the way.

I look at this body, scarred and weakened in many ways, but ever there for me, healing, rebounding, meeting the challenges of chronic disease.

I look at all the wonderful friends I’ve made on this journey, most of whom are still alive. I love the knowledge these friendships have given me about courage and the resilience of the human spirit.

I look at my doctors and nurses, an amazing breed of humans. I deeply cherish the friendships made in clinics and infusion rooms, and experiencing directly the great compassion and expansiveness of the human heart I find there.

I look at my family, grateful for their prayers, love and loyalty.

I look at my friends who’ve sensed my unwillingness to let this cancer become who I am, who have not looked at me and thought “victim.”

If I die from this disease, I do not want it to be said that I battled cancer. I’ve lived with cancer, having some very good years along the way. Mostly I keep an eye on things, sometimes I look away, but I always look to the future. For me it is the only way.

Bio: Jan Pool Stecher was born, raised and educated in Texas, but has been a resident of the San Francisco Bay Area since 1971. Her loves are reading, dance, opera, and travel, both domestic and international. She and her husband, Jay, just completed in December a 7500 mile trip to New York City and back, encountering, in spite of the bad weather everywhere, only snow flurries.