Health Magazine

That Chipped Teacup Feeling: Life After Breast Cancer

Posted on the 03 April 2012 by Jean Campbell

The following guest post is the second in this site’s series, “New Beginnings After Breast Cancer.”

breast cancerThe post comes from freelance writer, Holly Robinson who has been writing feature articles, essays and advice columns on health, parenting and psychology topics for national magazines since 1995.  She has been a contributing editor at Ladies’ Home Journal and Parents magazines.  Her work has appeared in The Boston Globe, Family Circle, FamilyFun, Fitness, Good Housekeeping, More, Parenting, Parents Expecting, Shape, and WorkingMother. Her book, The Gerbil Farmer’s Daughter (Harmony/Crown, May 2009) is now available in paperback.

Nine years ago, I was diagnosed with breast cancer.  This wasn’t the “do something or die” kind of cancer that my friends Rachel and Kim went through last year.  It wasn’t even the “lump the size of a grapefruit” breast cancer my mom had removed after getting her first mammogram at age 78.  It certainly wasn’t the wildfire kind of breast cancer that killed my son’s English teacher in high school, when my son and her daughter were both just sixteen years old.

Nope, my breast cancer was, thankfully, the “almost missed it” variety.  I had a lumpectomy (described by my nurse as “the size of an orange”–why do they always use fruit metaphors?)  Clear margins, no radiation or chemo.  Nothing much to go through, by almost any medical standard.  Why, then, was I so terrified?

I’d heard a lot about breast cancer—I am a journalist, after all, and I’ve known plenty of cancer survivors (and others who were less fortunate).  But nobody told me about the fear.  For several years after my lumpectomy, I felt as damaged as a chipped teacup.  I worried that one more time through the dishwasher might shatter me completely.

As a mother whose youngest son was in kindergarten when I was first diagnosed, my biggest  fear was that the cancer would return and kill me while my kids still needed me.  I had other, lesser fears, too:  losing what’s left of my boobs, having my husband lose interest in me.

Gradually, though, I have somehow stopped being afraid.  I had a couple of new scares, resulting in biopsies.  My husband was diagnosed with diabetes, my stepsister with colon cancer, my mother with emphysema.  Another good friend just found out that her son—the same age as my oldest boy—has lymphoma.

The truth is that we all carry sleeping tigers inside us.  That’s what it feels like to me:  that my cancer is this capricious jungle animal asleep inside me.  It could wake at any moment, sharpen its claws, and slash my life to bits.  Never mind feeling like a chipped teacup. Now I visualized a caged and potentially lethal animal inside me!

Somehow, though, this image has given me the strength to live without fear.  There are some things you can’t control in life—you can only accept that you, like anyone else, might experience disease, loss, grief, survival, death, surgery, whatever.  We all go through something.  Why worry about it until it happens? Let sleeping tigers lie, and get on with your life in the meantime.

After breast cancer, I became resolved to do things I’d always put off.  We bought a cottage in Vermont and I hiked the White Mountains.  I took a pottery class with my husband and finally wrote a novel.  The more I did, the better I felt, because I was finally living life fully.

No matter how short your life might be, or how deliciously long, why not cram in as much as possible?  I now take on every adventure that appeals to me and embrace new opportunities to live with love, grace, humor, and compassion.

breast cancer
In my novel, Sleeping Tigers, I created a young woman who is very different from me, but who does the same things, ultimately, after fighting her own battle with breast cancer.  She earns not just her physical survival, but experiences a new joy in her human journey as well. I created her for all of us.

Holly’s Book can be found at:

Visit Holly at:

Back to Featured Articles on Logo Paperblog

Paperblog Hot Topics