Helen

My first feeling was that I didn’t believe it, but since I had it… I had the breast taken off and that was it, and I could forget about it… The second time I was very angry that the cancer came back. And then I realized I had it, and I have to accept it. And the other thing was there’s nothing I can do about it. And that’s what really bothered me, because if I have problems I usually try to figure out some way of solving them, and there’s no predictability about cancer at all. And so I had to change my attitude.

I also realized that a lot of things that I used to be very fussy about were really not important at all… The important thing was that I was alive, and I was with people that I loved, and having communication with people. And that mattered most of all. And so I think I gained a great deal. I used to be a real fusspot! 

What I’ve learned from having cancer I think mostly is to be more tolerant of people. To take their aches and pains more seriously – it might not be much, but it is to them. And so in that sense I think I’ve grown. Cancer hits people from all walks of life, all walks, all ages, it is completely indiscriminate in who it hits. I just feel badly for the children I see in the hospital and for the young people particularly. 

My advice to someone who’s just been diagnosed would be: don’t give up hope. That they’re coming up with new things… and since particularly they are aiming at controlling it, not with miracle drugs but with ordinary medication, I think there’s great hope that people can live quite a bit longer than they thought. 

I’m 78 years old, and I think I’ve lived a good, full life. My mother and grandmother both died in their 90s and I would love to live until then, but if it takes me tomorrow, that’s okay. There are a lot of young people like two friends of mine who were in their 50s who died, and I felt that here I’ve lived on, so I really have no regrets.