Does having cancer change you?  It certainly brings a lot of changes.  It can slow you down, make you stop working, steal your energy.  It can change your routine, your habits, your diet.  It can renew your perspective, make you more introspective, make you feel bolder, or make you feel weaker.  It might make you feel differently about your body; trust it less, listen to it more, look at it less critically, or more critically.  It changes how you feel about your hair, too – both when it goes and when it comes back.  It can teach you to lean on people, to not always have to be strong, or to be stronger.  It can drive you to do more, or it can drive you under the duvet.


We go through these changes, some of them or all of them, and many more. The changes might be temporary – the energy returns, you emerge from under the duvet, you can eat again, you can use shampoo again.


But does having cancer change who we are?  I don’t know.  When I was first diagnosed this was one of the things I feared most – that cancer would change me, or change the way the world saw and treated me. That it would insinuate itself into my identity.  I didn’t want to be “that girl with cancer.”  Nobody wants to have cancer, and I certainly didn’t want it to become any part of what defines me.


But now, more than a year after that lumpy little interloper popped up in my left breast, I see it a little differently.  It’s like cancer takes the essence of who you are and exposes it to light, puts it under stress, and shakes it around in a beaker.  Then it adds a whole bunch of things to you that weren’t there before – reckoning with your own mortality, for example – and lets those things react and settle. Cancer distills you.  You’re still made of the same basic ingredients, but you may be a little more potent.  Less like aging wine and more like making moonshine. 


Not that I want to be thought of as bathtub gin — or god forbid, hooch – but it sure beats being “that girl with cancer.”


1 Comment

Filed under Living with Breast Cancer

One response to “Moonshine

  1. Geminigirl

    Hey Leanne,

    Like you, I didn’t want to be “that girl with cancer” and I don’t think I have ever seen myself as being defined by having cancer. I do believe, however, it has deeply influenced who I am today.

    I am not the same person I was prior to cancer and its treatments. My body’s tolerance for fatigue, certain foods and stress has changed. This has led to many changes in my lifestyle and the need for me to often make VERY different choices about what I may choose to do. This may be as simple as “Will I go to a movie with a friend?” to “Will I take this training/job opportunity?”

    I don’t like this need to make a choice! I’ve always been someone who just “gets on” with whatever it is I want or need to do. I guess I still am, because there are many days when it is pure, sheer pig headed determination which gets me through the day.

    So, I think I’ve answered part of the question. Yes, cancer has definitely affected me, to the point of certain negative changes. To a degree it has made me the girl who HAD cancer.

    The experience of dealing with cancer (note NOT cancer itself) has also changed who I am as a human being. I recognized the “moment”, the fun of it, the frustration, the joy, the happiness, even the emotional pain of the moment. I allow myself to feel.

    I know I can face almost anything and find the courage to deal with it, because I got through the loneliest, scariest, grossest, suckiest thing that life has ever thrown at me. This doesn’t mean that life’s challenges don’t continue to frighten me, frustrate, sadden or … (substitute an emotion) me. But somehow, I’ve got to the point of being able to accept, even while I fight to survive or change, the experience.

    I’ll NEVER be glad I had cancer. I’ll never be grateful for the experience of cancer. I’ll never see myself as “the girl/woman who had cancer”. I am, however, a survivor of one of life’s huge challenges. I don’t doubt I will face other challenges which will test my ability to survive life even further, but I do know I am emotionally strong and up to the challenge.

    I’ve been tested and I passed, once. This gives me the courage to trust I will do my best to pass the next test and the next.

    I like your beaker analogy. Cancer exposes the essence of who we are. Reckoning with “your own mortality” is the catalyst which distills who we will evolve into. Moonshine certainly works for me!

    Maybe the cancer experience, or the experience of cancer, moves us to dance in the Moonshine and then, later, in the Sunshine. We have learned every moment of every day is a gift, we are less likely to take life for granted. We know how fragile life is, and value the experiences and the time with those we love.


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