Breast Cancer and Balance

Welcome to the "On Balance" guest blog. Every Tuesday, "On Balance" features the views of a guest writer. It could be your neighbor, your boss, your most loved or hated poster from the blog, or you! Send me your original, unpublished entry (300 words or fewer) for consideration. Writers need to use their full names. Obviously, the topic should be something related to balancing your life.

By Ann Bradley

As a full-time worker for the past 25 years and the mother of three children ranging in age from 5 to 16 (plus two teenage stepchildren), I have struggled to "balance" my life for years. Now, at this busy holiday time, I am struggling to balance work, family, and breast cancer.

Some decisions are easy. My husband and I sat down with the kids and redistributed household duties to get me through treatment. I accepted an invitation from a friend for Thanksgiving dinner, instead of draining myself with a domestic marathon. Christmas will be a tree, presents, and time with my family. There is even a certain glee, I confess, in deleting the numerous e-mails about holiday events at work and school. In years past, seeing them made me feel stressed and inadequate, since it was all I could do to have a jolly time at home. Now, it's delete, delete, delete!

Inside, though, I am dubious that I'll get the recovery time I need. I made it through surgery and the beginning of breast reconstruction easily, so my family continues to make demands on me, large and small, and I continue to respond. After all, that is what a mother, and a wife, does. The point of all my treatment is to be able to continue to be here for my loved ones, right?

On the other hand, I need time alone more than ever before. It's difficult to get. I have fantasies of staying in bed with the laptop, or lounging on the couch with a movie without interruption. But so far I haven't been "sick" enough to do either-- or smart enough to just take a break. There is always a printer cartridge to change or homework to oversee or a small child wanting to know how to spell something or presents that need buying.

Work has been the easiest part, by far. My nonprofit organization is like a family, full of the most decent, caring human beings ever assembled under one roof. I have continued to do my full-time job, dashing out for doctor's appointments, and I bought a laptop so I can work from home when my energy is really low.

The lesson, it seems, is that there is never any end to the balance struggle. The gift we all need the most, a guarantee of a full recovery with no recurrence of the cancer, is the one thing eluding us all. Only one thing is sure: Christmas 2007 will be one for us all to remember.

Ann Bradley lives with her family in Bethesda, Md.

By Leslie Morgan Steiner |  December 18, 2007; 7:00 AM ET  | Category:  Guest Blogs
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Amy, great guest blog. I hope you get the much needed alone time. I think you should talk to your husband about needing alone time. I am sure he will give you the support you need. Hope you and your family have a wonderful relaxing holiday.

Posted by: foamgnome | December 18, 2007 7:28 AM

Ann, My thoughts and prayers go out to you and your family. This was a very nice blog and I thank you for sharing it with us.
It sounds as though you have a good handle on what you need and congratulations on being able to receive help from friends and deleting the emails.

Posted by: KLB_SS_MD | December 18, 2007 7:29 AM

"The point of all
my treatment is to be able to continue to be here for my loved ones, right?"

That's correct, Ann. The joy of motherhood is to be able to do for others. Although it's rewarding to see outward signs of appreciation, knowing that you have been taken for granted is a compliment in it's own special way.

So do what you need to do to keep yourself healthy, you've got people depending on you! :-)

Posted by: DandyLion | December 18, 2007 7:37 AM

This is a wonderful blog and I really admire your strength. It sounds like you're doing a great job of balancing, but first and foremost should be your health and recovery and, like the emails, you should make your health your priority and if you can accomplish other stuff that's great and if you can't then it's on other people to take up the slack.

I'm sure with your family there's a component of them wanting to know you're fine and to blot out the fear and sadness your diagnosis and treatment brought. Yes, one part of your treatment was to ensure you'll be there for your family and loved ones, but the real point is to make sure YOU'RE healthy and able to live a full life.

Thank god you haven't been "sick" enough to be bedridden, but in comparison to other people who aren't going through what you are you most definitely need time and rest to fully recuperate.

It seems that if it's hard for you to cut back on doing for your family--and that is, after all, what's important to you and them--maybe you should consider cutting back on working. Your health comes first, before a job, and it's far more important for you to give your body the rest it's craving than to continue working full-speed.

Good luck to you and best wishes for a full recovery.

Posted by: maggielmcg | December 18, 2007 8:08 AM


Thank you for your guest blog. I can relate in a small sense to what you are going through. This past year both my mom and mother in law have been diagnosed with ovarian cancer. My mother's was caught early, my mother-in-law was in stage 4 when she was diagnosed. (Ladies get your CA-125 checked!!!!)

Both are responding remarkably well to chemo right now. Both have differing levels of frustrations. My mom is 59 and trying to still bring in the needed income into the house. She is a home health nurse but her work place has been very accomodating. She works in the office and processes the insurance paperwork.

My mother in law is in her 70's and had to retire from the part time job she loved. Her biggest problem from the chemo is the neuropathy in her feet which prevent her from being as active as she'd like to be.

In this season, we are all so blessed to have our loved ones still with us, and my husband and I both count our blessings daily.

Posted by: annwhite1 | December 18, 2007 8:27 AM

My husband went through treatment for non-Hodgkins lymphoma twice. Your need for alone-time and rest if not unusual. Make arrangements to work at home instead of at work, maybe not everyday or just half days, and then ask your husband to deal with getting the kids to school (or whatever) while you spend the morning in bed with the laptop.

The time alone is the time you need to come to turns with what's happening. Don't shortchange it.

And best wishes for successful treatment.

Posted by: DMD77 | December 18, 2007 8:59 AM

congratulations on such a well written piece and thank you for taking some of your time and energy to share it with us ... best wishes for a complete return to full health and strength and peace ... i hope those who love you can give you the support needed for this ...

Posted by: cozzo | December 18, 2007 9:54 AM

Ann, Best wishes for a full recovery, and as swiftly as possible, too! As someone who had an entirely different (but nonetheless life-threatening) illness last year, I instantly recognized and shared your glee over deleting emails making demands on your time for things which you realize aren't all that important to you, and otherwise making life easier for yourself. While there's nothing good about being ill, at least it's possible to develop added perspective on life and take (back) control over annoying things in life that you didn't like the fact were trying to control you in the first place. Wishing you a happy holiday season!

Posted by: mehitabel | December 18, 2007 10:19 AM

Ann, you put me to shame. I've get a cold, sinus infection, or the somach flu pretty much every two to three weeks (thanks to day care and a worn down immune system), and I whine and complain endlessly about it. Here you are with breat cancer worrying about staying in bed a few extra hours, and taking a little time for your self to recovery from breat reconstruction surgery. Do you really how puny and pathetic that makes all of us professional complainers feel? I mean really, order some take out, work at home when you feel up to it, tell your kids to watch american idol this season, and go chill out in your bedroom with a really, really good book. You deserve it, and you have permission from the pinkoleander academy of sniveling slouches, we really NEED you to take it easy, okay. So take care and get well.

Posted by: pinkoleander | December 18, 2007 10:23 AM

My heart is with you. When I was going through breast cancer treatment 10 years ago, I was single and had no kids so I focused on getting well with fewer distractions. As you say though, sometimes distractions are a good thing.
I've always marvelled at how so many women manage to balance their lives between work and family. At this time, be sure to treat yourself as well as you possibly can. I know it's hard, but sometimes you'll have to ask for help--it sounds like your work situation is a good one.
I'd like to offer a support forum that is based in Nova Scotia which is outstanding. down and click on online support. All the very best to you and your family.

Posted by: ellenbrady9 | December 18, 2007 11:38 AM

Ann, you've described one of my greatest fears...I simply have no idea what I would do if I were to get seriously ill. My ex-husband lives 10,000 miles away. Both of my parents are dead. I have no one to help me take care of my daughter. She commutes with me to her school, which is 25 miles from our home, so it's not like the neighbor could take her to school for me. Even when I'm sick...I'm not really allowed to be sick. I do count my blessings, and your story really puts things in perspective for me (and a few others, I'm sure). Best wishes for a speedy recovery and staying cancer-free...and for reminding us what balance really is.

Posted by: pepperjade | December 18, 2007 11:40 AM

I can relate to the longing for a little restorative solitude but not because of any serious health reasons -- I guess I should count myself lucky to be a member of the pinkoleander academy of sniveling slouches. Thanks for reminding me to count my blessings. Here's wishing you many blessings and a balance of holiday merriment and some peace and quiet this holiday season.

Posted by: anne.saunders | December 18, 2007 11:54 AM

Ann, Your blog was a gift. I'm sure this resonates with lots of women who are dealing with health issues along with the usual demands. I hope you take all the time for yourself you need and enjoy the holiday season. Wishing you a swift recovery and lots of love.


Posted by: avandlisa | December 18, 2007 12:03 PM

P.S. I've recovered sufficiently to be eligible now for the Pinkoleander Academy of Sniveling Slouches, so eagerly await my membership card in the virtual mail! Ann, I hope your recovery reaches that point in a timely manner, too. But let's try not to forget the lessons we learned during our respective illnesses, namely that we need to retake some of the control in our lives that we deserve, while doing for others more judiciously.

Posted by: mehitabel | December 18, 2007 12:08 PM

Ann, thank you so much for sharing your story, and my heart, too, is with you. I hope very much that you will give yourself that day lounging in bed with your laptop, or better yet, a good novel of your choice. It sounds like you have shown amazing strength and resilience. Good luck to you.

Posted by: LizaBean | December 18, 2007 1:43 PM

Ann, I am humbled by your grace and dignity at a time when many of us would probably indulge in a bit of "why me?" whining and grousing. I, too, am eligible for membership in the Pinkoleander Academy of Sniveling Slouches, to my utter shame. God bless you as you go through the recovery stage, and please do take time for yourself to be alone and to do whatever it is you want to do. You deserve it, of course, but you also owe it to yourself. We wives and moms tend to stretch ourselves to the limit to care for the loved ones in our families, but perhaps now is the perfect time for them to stretch a bit for you while you take that much-needed time. Believe me, it will be worth it to all of you.

Posted by: lsturt | December 18, 2007 2:08 PM


What a heartfelt guest blog! In my immediately family, we have gone thru the cancer treatment before and hope to avoid it in the future. I wish you as much sucess in defeating this nasty as we have experienced!

Fred & Frieda

Posted by: Fred | December 18, 2007 2:18 PM

Well Mehitabel, unfortunately the staff here at the academy are entirely too busy whining this month to issue any membership cards. Actually, to do so might be a violation of the procrastination clause of the sniviling constitution (which is of course only half written). But we do wish everyone good health, happy holidays, and only the most insignificant things to complain about in the coming new year.

Posted by: pinkoleander | December 18, 2007 2:53 PM

I had a similar diagnosis almost 4 years ago.
Surgery, reconstruction - no systematic treatments.

Just dealing with the medical establishment is enough to do you in.

Despite my 'lite' diagnosis it was a major shock. I couldn't read a novel for almost two years. I went onto to work, I kept up with things, but my focus was shot. I found that I dropped things that hadn't meant that much to me. A coffee group, some volunteer activities that I'd started and just kept doing. I had serious inward pull and if I didn't love something I stopped.

But not everything. My daily swim persists and I now do new strokes! I've added a weekly run. I can get into it with the best of them at work.

Almost 4 years later I'm much recovered. I can read novels again.

When I had my children I found that it was 18 months before I felt back up to speed. Maybe it's because I'm older, but it's taken about twice that time to recover from breast cancer.

Posted by: RedBird27 | December 18, 2007 5:14 PM

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