Friday, February 11, 2005
After They've Seen 'Paree'. . . .
I remember when I was so very excited to come back to work. I was pretty proud to return so quickly. It was almost as if I had something to prove. I needed to show my strength, validate the hope there is in fighting cancer, and show the world that cancer does not have to be a death sentence. In fact, I even like to refer to it as a "life sentence." I have learned so much about life and living from cancer that rather than killing me, it has taught me how to live.

Of course we also use the term, life sentence, to represent a jail sentence. A punishment that confines a person, permanently revokes her freedom, and forces her to live in place where there is no hope. While I absolutely do not believe that I did something so terrible that I was punished with cancer (sheesh! Who could believe in a God like that?), I fully understand both definitions of the term.

In some ways the "dark" side of that definition has been creeping in from time to time. Cancer is somewhat of a life sentence. How do you know that next headache, or that next liver problem, or that next ache is not cancer spreading? It will always be with me. Life seemed simpler before cancer. Then on the other hand, in many ways it seems simpler now. Cancer has a way of showing you what's important and what is not. It makes things pretty black and white.

I admit it has been hard to shuffle papers from one side of my desk to the other these days. As a career bureaucrat, I do have some rather unexciting work laced in between the more exciting or creative projects and responsibilities. While I honestly do believe that the work I do contributes to the quality of life for the community, I have had a difficult time getting things done. I would rather be out there championing my cause, fighting for more research, holding someone's hand while she faces her first chemo, convincing politicians to spend more on early detection, comforting a child who is afraid for his sick mommy . . . . and yet I have returned to my routine. Yes, that thing I longed for over the last six or seven months. I mean, how ya gonna keep 'em down on the farm after they've seen Paree? (most impact when said in a French accent)

Breast cancer is no trip to Paris, but the obvious answer to that question is a paycheck. My job is my security and that is important to me. I don't dislike my job in anyway, but I feel I have a calling to do more. I didn't want breast cancer to define me. I won't be driving a pink car handing out pink ribbons to everyone I meet. Frankly, that would draw more attention to me than the cause. I decided to incorporate things in my life that raise awareness, champion the cause, and contribute to a healthy lifestyle. This is where the Race for the Cure fits in. And the Relay for Life in May. And the volunteer time with the various organizations that support people living with breast cancer. My hope is that the good work outweighs the daily blahs and keeps me moving forward.

I have come to realize that breast cancer has not defined my life, but it has defined life for me. There is a big difference.
Written by Jeannette Vagnozzi
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Name: Jeannette
Location: Southern California, USA

This is my story about being diagnosed with breast cancer at age 39. I thought I was out of the woods, but four years late it came back. This is my quest to be a two-time survivor.

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