Today we hear from Ann Silberman, one of the most prominent voices in the breast cancer blogosphere. Her blog, “Breast Cancer?…But Doctor, I Hate Pink!” details her journey with breast cancer, from initial to terminal diagnosis. With wit and flair, Silberman describes telling her children about her disease, her treatment, and how she has navigated the twists and turns of living with breast cancer.
Tell our readers about yourself.
I’m a wife and mother, first of all. I have two sons, one who is 25 and one who is 15. They are the light of my life. I don’t listen to a lot of music. At home, I have a large yard with squirrels and birds and when I’m alone I like to listen to the wind in the trees and the sounds of nature. But, I’ll still turn on the Stones from time to time. I do love to read, and I read everything. I like non-fiction but also like women’s fiction. I particularly like memoir. Not of famous people, but regular people. Everybody has an interesting story to tell.
My favorite job was as a high school secretary. I really loved everything about that job. Working around kids just gives you energy and they are so fun. Teachers are creative and kind and the whole environment is interesting. There is something different every day and it makes the day go by fast. I was really sad when I had to give up my job last July, but I just was not able to do the hours anymore.
Could you tell us a little about your journey with breast cancer? What have you learned from it?
The first thing I learned is that the journey part is a myth; you never get to go anywhere! I was diagnosed in August of 2009, with Stage II cancer. I had a right side mastectomy, did six rounds of chemo and a year of herceptin. I was so happy to be finished with treatment, and had decided I was not going to think about cancer anymore and was going to shut the blog down and get on with life.
Unfortunately, just a few months later, a scan found that cancer was in my liver, so I became Stage IV, which is the terminal stage. Since then, I have had a liver resection and am on my sixth chemo. I will find out if I can have a liver ablation for a stubborn spot that won’t go away soon. I guess the lesson that has to be learned is that what happens is completely out of your control. All you can do is play the cards you have been given. You can’t change anything so you just have to try to enjoy each day as it comes, the best you are able.
I started to blog because I realized that there were a lot of people who were going to want to know details of my cancer and my treatment. I couldn’t imagine making all those phone calls and repeating myself all the time. I thought the blog would be a perfect way for everybody to get the updates they wanted and for me not to have to be disturbed from sleep.
I intentionally wrote it in a funny, engaging way because I wanted my family to want to read it, and I also didn’t want them to worry. I had no idea it would catch on the way it has, and I’m really surprised and grateful. I get a lot of support from people all over the world who are cheering me on, and it’s just been so helpful.
What has helped you deal with your cancer?
I think realizing that while what is happening to your body is out of your control, your reaction to it is not. You have to have that MRI, for example, but you can decide to be upset, nervous, scared, or you can decide to try to hear music in the noises. You can choose to see the bright side, the funny side, the hopeful side. I decided to do that early on and share it on the blog, and it’s helped me cope.
What are some common misperceptions people make about breast cancer patients?
I think the big one about breast cancer is that nobody dies of it anymore. That is perpetuated by Komen and their “awareness” machine but it is not true. 40,000 woman a year die of breast cancer, the same as before Komen was ever on the scene. Breast cancer is as deadly as it ever was. Also, there is a belief that if you caught it early enough, you’ll be fine. That is, unfortunately, not the case. Mine was caught early. 20-30% of women with early stage cancer end up going on to have metastatic disease. This silly pink month and the message of awareness is outdated. Everybody is aware of breast cancer. What we need now is research and a cure. Komen donates almost nothing of their billions for research. Charities like Stand Up 2 Cancer have made more strides in a couple of years than Komen has in 30.
What do you want your blog to accomplish?
I want women to know that they are not alone, that others out there have been where they are, and that if I can do it, they can. I wanted to let people know that you can survive cancer treatments and go on to live a normal life. I wanted to describe all the treatments so women would know what to expect, and I wanted to put it in a positive light so women would know not to be afraid. It’s funny, but when I became metastatic, I was more sad for my regular blog readers than I was for myself. I felt I’d let them down, in a way. Now, the focus has changed – I want to let people know that a person can still live a good life under the shadow of a terminal diagnosis. Of course, I’ve received a groundswell of support and everything goes both ways. I share and people give back.
Any advice for those with breast cancer?
I want to tell women who have been through treatment for early stage cancer to give themselves permission to believe they have healed. I am always so sad when I see a woman who can’t let her cancer experience go, even years later; I think these women have a form of PTSD. I know it takes time. I believe that people should think about emotional recovery as well as physical recovery, right from the beginning. Nobody teaches you how to be “normal” again after a major experience like treating cancer. Don’t spend your life looking over your shoulder for relapse. If it comes back, trust me, it will make itself known, but it may never return, and the odds are with you. Time spent worrying is time you can never get back. Live your life like everything you did was worth it. Because it is.