Debra was diagnosed in February of 2008. Suddenly, the scariest words in the English language to her were “cancer”, “invasive”,” malignancy”. In the weeks that followed, these words overtook every thought and haunted every dream of hers. One evening, in the midst of all of the despair, she realized that she was the only one who was going to be able to disempower them. For her the epiphany was that her focus on fear wasn’t going to make the upcoming journey any easier. She suddenly found herself only able to see two options – it was either going to be about loss or it was going to be about learning. She opted for the latter by choosing the words she would live by.
Debra quickly began to replace “cancer, invasive, malignant, victim” with: “survivor, journey, hope, love, life.” One of her breast care nurses explained her pending surgery to her daughter as “pulling bad weeds from a garden so the flowers can grow.” In post-op, the words: “lymph negative” screamed a promise of “victory” to her. A double mastectomy meant “perky replacement parts”. Rather than thinking about the chemotherapy as “poison treatments,” Debra replayed over and over again the story that the oncology nurse had told her daughter about the medicine going through her body like “Ms. Pacman looking to get the bad cancer cells, and, on her way eating up a few of the good cells, like the ones that made your mom’s hair grow.” The infusion room became just another “remote office space”. The nickname “Super Woman” made her smile. A comment of “Your strength becomes you” gave Debra strength. At one point when she questioned whether she should be more discreet about what she was going through, a co-worker encouraged her to “Live Out Loud”.
Debra is grateful for the opportunity to participate in the Rare Chair Affair, and with gratitude and humility, extends a very public thank you to those whose thoughts and words supported her throughout this very interesting adventure.
Debra’s Chair: Choose Your Words Carefully
The inspiration came from the words that lifted me up and pushed me along my journey of surviving breast cancer. Some are from songs or poems. Others are offhand comments from friends or colleagues. All of them were divinely guided – recalled or said just when I most needed the message.