Jun 25

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Learning when to stop fighting

As much work as I’ve done with breast cancer survivors, before tonight I had never been to a Relay for Life event. This evening I visited the local Relay event to see what it was all about…and I have to admit that I spent most of my time there crying.

Why?  I kept asking myself…why?  This is a population that I know pretty well.  I have spent a lot of time working with them as they plumb the depths of some really difficult issues.  Why would people walking in circles around a track cause me so much upset?

It wasn’t until I was leaving the Relay area to walk home that I saw the sign that started to clear it up for me – “Celebrate. Remember. Fight Back.

I did my first workshop with a group of eight breast cancer survivors in 2004.  Jodi Picoult joined me as a collaborator and we both came at it from a similar point of view – we were scared of getting breast cancer and were hoping that facing the issue head-on would help us to eradicate our fears.  What we learned was that these women were so much more than their disease.  After three months with the Bosom Buddies I no longer saw their breasts as what defined them.  You can see Jodi talk about the shift we both experienced near the end of this beautiful piece from NH Chronicle.

About a year and a half ago I attended a lecture by the extraordinary Dr. Christiane Northrup.  Dr. Northrup said it very plainly – we have come to view our breasts as pre-cancerous lesions.  No longer is our primary breast-focus on either pleasure or sustenance.  It’s on mammograms, self-exams, and wondering when these hunks of flesh will turn against us.  Dr. Northrup’s remedy was very simple – instead of ignoring our breasts most of the time and then doing a fear-filled self-exam periodically, spend a few minutes each day being kind to our breasts.  Massage them.  Speak kindly to them.  Enjoy the fact that we have them.

I don’t believe that she’s suggesting that mammograms and appropriate self-care shouldn’t be done…but the attitude with which we do them needs to be examined.  The line “Fight Back” on that Relay poster got my attention because I hear it playing in to a fear that we have to fight against something that we believe is bigger than us.

The desire to fight has a place.  Doctors say that a willingness to fight for life is an essential part of the treatment process.  When Bosom Buddies ended, I was invited to write an article for the Journal of Cancer Education detailing our writing and performance workshop methods (you can find that article by clicking here).  One of the things I learned in my research was that the end of treatment can be a time of depression and great fear for cancer survivors because they no longer feel like they’re actively fighting their disease.  A sense of purpose can come from the fight. But somewhere that fight has to transition back into a balanced give-and-take with life.  We cannot have a peaceful existence if we believe that we are constantly fighting for our life.

I applaud the work that Relay for Life is doing.  I also hope at some point they will re-examine how they communicate their message and engage their audience.

So where in all of this, you might ask, is the miracle?  Thanks to this line of thought, I took a few minutes tonight to review the videos from Bosom Buddies and they still make me cry.  I love those women.  They taught me a whole lot about how to live a graceful life.  They were the first group that willingly put themselves in my hands and trusted that I would lead them well.

Here’s to you, Bosom Buddies!!!  You’ll always be my first.  🙂


About the author

Leah Carey

Leah Carey is the Chief Miracle Officer of The Miracle Journal, where she writes about the large and small miracles that happen in her life every day. She is a life coach, speaker, journalist, freelance writer, and lover of life. In all of those pursuits, she works with people to identify what’s already right in your life so you can build an even more joyful and fulfilling daily experience from that foundation. You can find her on Facebook, , Twitter, and YouTube.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.leahcarey.com/themiraclejournal/2011/06/25/learning-when-to-stop-fighting/


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  1. Jennifer Adamson

    I’ve often thought of how Breast Cancer Awareness should be breast health awareness. I agree, it seems our breasts are seen as ticking time bombs and it should not be so. I went for my first Thermography session just this last week after researching mammograms and the pulling and squishing and radiation that I have been and would have been subjected to over the years. I feel this is a more natural less invasive way of assuring breast health for me. As a psychosomatic practitioner, I am aware of the mind-body connection between over-nurturing or smothering and the damage it can have in relation to over all breast health.

  2. PJ Hamel

    YOU will always be my first, Leah – the first person to make me look inside myself, again, and again, and again… Through you I found Sybil, and Reiki. Through you I found what’s become a life avocation – working with breast cancer survivors. Your work on Bosom Buddies continues to bear fruit all these years later, and will do so into the future. Don’t be afraid of breast cancer; if you do get it, all of us will be there for you, just as you were there for us. Love and good karma- PJ

  3. Leah Carey

    Dearest, most wonderful PJ,
    I was just thinking about you and this beautiful line that you wrote: “I don’t think in terms of fighting cancer. Cancer is me. I am cancer. Why would I fight myself?” (And yes, just for the record, I’m quoting that from memory.) 🙂 How prescient that seems to me now.

    I’m not afraid anymore. I know so much more now than I did then about how to care for myself emotionally, physically, and spiritually. And I know that what you say is true – if it ever did happen, I’d have an amazing support system of wonderful women to guide me through it.

    I am so incredibly grateful that you are in my life. All my love, ~L

  4. Leah Carey

    I love how you phrase that, Jenn – “breast health awareness”. Absolutely!!! I’m interested to hear more about your experience with thermography. I’ve heard of it but haven’t researched it. I’m still a couple of years away from “that” age, but it doesn’t hurt to start getting educated early. Hugs!

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