(Editor’s note: This originally ran in September 2011. I planned to “recycle” it later but I did it now since it showed up on someone else’s blog without citing me. Updated: The other blogger added me as the author after I told her it was me. At no time did she try to claim credit for my work. Some of the comments below were before it was resolved.)
1. Thou shalt give thyself time to think. When you’re diagnosed, you may feel like you have to do something right now. You don’t. Take a deep breath. Give the spinning in your head time to slow down before you make any decisions.
2. Thou shalt not judge thy neighbor’s treatment or reconstruction choices or attitude toward their diagnosis. I honestly have not seen people in the breast cancer community judge each other’s treatment or reconstruction choices, either online or offline. The real armchair quarterbacks are the people who have never been through it. They need to be mindful of who’s actually on the playing field. Attitude gets a little trickier. No one has the right to tell you how you should feel. Some people would have you think you should be able to overcome your fluffy pink cancer by being all shiny and happy, or that you should be grateful for some life lesson. That’s a BIG fail. But you may be the naturally optimistic type. You may actually be grateful. And we all need to remember that’s okay too. We’re all wired differently. I always say that telling you how you should feel about your diagnosis is kind of like saying you should be six feet tall or have brown eyes.
3. Thou shalt honor thy own feelings, whether shiny and happy or tired or angry or scared. And don’t be surprised to feel all these things within the space of 15 minutes, several times a day.
4. Thou shalt love thyself as thy neighbor. Women are so darn hard on ourselves. Give yourself the same break you would to a loved one going through a big diagnosis.
5. Thou shalt not beat thyself up. You don’t have breast cancer because you ate the wrong things or didn’t breast-feed your kids or exercise enough or the right way. You have breast cancer, because.
6. Thou shalt allow others to help you. This is a tough one for many of us. But your family and friends want to be able to do something for you; let them.
7. Thou shalt not bear false witness against science. You may or may not decide on a certain course of treatment. (See Commandment 2.) You may or may not have a good experience. We can learn so much from each other’s honest recounting of our experiences, but that doesn’t make us medical experts. Celebrities and politicians have a special responsibility here.
8. Thou shalt ask thy doctors questions. Do not be afraid to ask, “What is the risk if I do A or B?” or “What does that word mean?” or “Could you repeat that?” Good doctors welcome your questions and concerns. Not-so-good ones need to be reminded there’s a person attached to the breast.
9. Thou shalt seize the day. There’s no doubt cancer is the elephant in the room. But sometimes you just have to pat its big ugly flank and say, “Excuse me, elephant, but I’m going to the beach, or the movies, or the back yard with my kids. I’ll catch you when I get back. Right now, I’m off to have some fun.”
10. Thou shalt remember you are more than your cancer. Cancer is all about cells run amok in your body. It will do its best to claim your identity as well. You may be a woman with cancer, but you are also a wife, mom, sister, daughter, employed person and friend. Let the extent to which cancer becomes part of your identity be your choice, not its choice.
©Jackie Fox 2011
P.S. Since so many of you have recommended printing and sharing with your family, friends, and doctors, I created a PDF to make it easier to print and share. Thanks to all of you who have shared this and commented. The 10 Commandments of Breast Cancer
The Truth Behind 5 Breast Cancer Myths
Doctors don’t yet know what causes breast cancer, but decades of research has led to an increased understanding of the disease. Here are a few breast cancer myths that can be put to rest.
By Reader's Digest Editors
Doctors don’t yet know what causes breast cancer, but decades of research has led to an increased understanding of the disease.
Based on this expanding body of knowledge, here are a few breast cancer myths that can be put to rest:
You may have heard: Having a big chest puts you at greater risk.
Truth: Research has shown that the cells in which breast cancer grows are unaffected by the amount of tissue or fat a breast contains. In other words, the size of her breasts is unrelated to a woman’s chances of developing breast cancer.
Women over 50 whose bustiness is due to being overweight, however, do have reason for concern. According to the American Cancer Society, obesity is linked to a long list of cancers, including breast cancer, in women past menopause.
You may have heard: If breast cancer doesn’t run in your family, you’re probably safe.
Truth: Many women are surprised to learn that having no genetic connection to the disease only decreases your odds of developing breast cancer by 5-10 percent. Most cases of breast cancer—even those in women who do have a family history of the disease—are not caused by mutations in the breast cancer genes BRCA1 and BRCA2.
You may have heard: Taking birth control pills increases your chances of developing breast cancer.
Truth: Birth control pills do contain hormones that are linked to breast cancer. But the doses in today’s pills are considerably lower than 20 years ago, when some studies showed a small increased risk of developing breast cancer in women who took birth control.
Research continues on the potential relationship between the pill and the disease, however enough recent studies have shown no measurable connection that doctors presently do not consider birth control to be a breast cancer risk factor in most women.
You may have heard: Using deodorant can lead to breast cancer.
Truth: The lymph nodes, where some breast cancers develop, are located beneath the underarm, a fact that has inspired several rumors about a link between underarm products and the disease.
Researchers studying claims that deodorants and antiperspirants contain cancer-causing toxins, or prevent the release of toxins from the body, however, have found no evidence for either. Some deodorants and antiperspirants (as well as many lotions, cleansers, and cosmetics) contain parabens, which have been found in breast cancer tissue, but as yet there is no evidence of causation between the ingredients and cancer.
You may have heard: Breast cancer is an older woman’s disease.
Truth: The fact that most cases of breast cancer occur in women over 50 often overshadows the reality that a full 25 percent of breast cancer patients are younger than 50. Doctors recommend women begin performing monthly breast self-exams when they turn 20, along with a clinical exam every three years. Most women should begin getting annual mammograms at 40, but if breast cancer runs in your family, your doctor may suggest scheduling your first at 35 or even 30.
For the truth about more breast cancer myths, see the full list at Prevention.com.