Mothering Heights: A Survivor’s Strategy

By Christine Fugate.

Here’s my speech: Get a mammogram yearly, examine your breasts monthly, and exercise daily. If you have breast cancer in your family, have dense tissue or feel a strange lump, demand (not request) a MRI and ultrasound.

Eat your vegetables, drink mostly water and try not to stress.  As far as I’m concerned the rest is a secret that we have yet to understand. Probably, it’s genetics and environmental toxins, things that are out of our control.

As a survivor, I can’t say I’m much of an expert on what to do when you are diagnosed except get some good doctors, a large box of chocolates and a subscription to Showtime.

What I can talk about is what worked and didn’t work for me during my nightmare. After you get that phone call or doctor’s visit, all you want to do is scream, cry and pretend that it never happened. I hid, finding the dark corner in our closet not nearly deep or dark enough.

After I cried a river, I tried to pretend that everything was normal and that my breasts were not going to be replaced with plastic pillows of water. I refocused on organizing my home from top to bottom. Since that could possibly take a lifetime, my doctor said “no way, Jose” and scheduled my surgery for the next week.

That’s when reality hit. I quit my job teaching, cancelled my column and went offline on my Mothering Heights blog. As I stepped out of sight, my friends stepped in, driving me to appointments, building a private blog, and organizing a meal train.

I was so grateful for my friends. Every hot meal dropped into the blue cooler on my doorstep was a piece of heaven. Even when I couldn’t swallow a sip of water, my family ate a delicious Shepherd’s pie, chili or chicken soup. Friends (and strangers) left treats, books and presents for my daughters.

I loved my magic cooler because I didn’t have to talk to anyone. Harsh as it may sound, I was a patient without patience for social interaction. Small talk was impossible, while talking about my illness made me cry. For the first time in my life, I was speechless.

My girlfriend set up a password protected blog so I could share information about my surgeries and treatments. I was so socially isolated that I soon needed to “talk” without having to actually read social cues. My friends’ comments on the blog were conversations that kept me going through low white blood cell counts, nausea and pain.

Other things that kept me happy were trash magazine likes US, Star and HELLO! Surely other people’s lives were more entertaining than mine. When I caught up on the rich and famous, I asked my friends to tell me about their day.

I loved frosting and hated lectures on sugar causing cancer. I didn’t have the stamina or mindset to change my diet. I was just trying to stay sane and away from the dark corners of the closet. Juicing, grass fed beef and low sugar are choices that I made after my treatments ended.

Finally, compassion is the most amazing gift. Drop any expectations you have of your friend. Don’t expect her to be polite, ask you about your day or even make any sense. This is one of the times when you give without a thank you, call with no return, and text without reply.

So, if you get that call from a friend or family member, buy a blue cooler and fill it up with soup. Send silly balloons with a bag full of chocolate. Show up in the driveway when you know she has an appointment. Most importantly, be willing to just be with her.

In the end, it wasn’t words or a speech that soothed my jagged soul. Being with others in silence was my secret to survival.


Visit for information on self-examinations and early detection. Christine can be reached at [email protected]

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