What I Learned from Breast Cancer
One writer reveals what it's really like to live with the disease day-to-day
— and honors the woman who helped her through the darkest moments.
Last October, REDBOOK asked readers to send in their stories of how breast
cancer had touched their lives — whether they themselves had the disease or had
witnessed a loved one facing it down. The entries we received were poignant and
powerful, making it difficult to select the grand-prize winner. Its author,
Lauren Reece Flaum, 48, was diagnosed with breast cancer nearly 13 years ago.
Since then, she has had a mastectomy, been in and out of chemotherapy, and been
on and off the drug Herceptin; Flaum's cancer would disappear for a while, but
inevitably it would return, after shorter and shorter intervals. "I used to
be disease-free for years at a time," says the Iowa City, IA, mom. "Now
we can't get it to go away."
Flaum's essay also appears in the new anthology A Cup of Comfort for
Breast Cancer Survivors. She received a $5,000 prize from the book's
publisher, Adams Media, which donated an additional $5,000 in her name to Susan
G. Komen for the Cure. When she found out she'd won the grand prize for her
bittersweet ode to her chemo nurse, Inga, "my heart skipped a beat!"
Flaum says. "It was such an overwhelming feeling to have made it through to
the end." Her proud clan — her husband of 22 years, Michael, 54; her
daughter, Georgia, 19; and her son, Chester, 16 — immediately took her to
dinner to celebrate. Just as gratifying to Flaum, though, was the reaction from
Inga's family. "They were so delighted and moved," she says. "They
felt like I got her completely, which is the best reward." Read on for
Flaum's moving essay.
I played a little game with Inga's face — well, her chin
mostly, her deep, plunging chin that reminded me of an icicle with its tip
snapped off. I'd never seen another chin like it; it was more a caricature than
a real feature. And I had nothing but time to study it, watching her enter and
exit my room, sometimes with a Styrofoam cup of chicken noodle soup, sometimes
with a printout of the day's blood counts, all too often with thick plastic
bags of toxic fluids targeting my tired veins. I'd seek out that odd triangular
shape, and in recognizing it know that, somehow, Inga would yet again get me
through the difficult day ahe