self help

Writing a Big Breast Adventure

I guess you could say I come from a family of writers.  My dad started his career as a finance journalist and one of my sisters is a sports writer for The Australian. Both my older sister and I married journalists and our younger sister is the author of several academic works.

Writing is writ large in our family, so to speak. I’ve have made a career out of it as a public relations practitioner for almost 30 years, but never in my wildest dreams did I think writing would actually save my life.

On Tuesday December 17th  2013 I was diagnosed with an infiltrating lobular carcinoma in my left breast.  Up until that moment I’d thought I was pretty in tune with my body, but this was a bolt from the blue. There’s no breast cancer in my family. I have three sisters, two older and one younger, none of whom have been diagnosed with anything more than an easily dispatched colorectal polyp. This prompted my son, 13 at the time, to ask the aunt who looked after him while I was in surgery, “Why did it have to be my mum?” Why indeed.

In a bid to make sense of the what was happening to me I started writing a series of blogposts entitled My Big Breast Adventure while undergoing (if you’ll pardon the expression) the ‘pointy-end’ of treatment throughout 2014 and 2015.

There were 32 posts during this time and while I didn’t set out to deliberately shock, some of the headlines were a bit provocative, including Cut, Poison, Burn and Laugh, Dying and Other Inconveniences and What the FEC? the latter in honour of the acronym given to the chemo cocktail many breast cancer sufferers are forced to endure. It stands for Fluorouracil (also known in oncology circles as 5FU – yes, you heard right), Epirubicin and Cyclophosphamide – FEC for short. Who knew oncologists had a sense of humour?

I confess, my reasons for blogging while going through treatment were purely selfish. I was trying to rationalise the tremendous shock of becoming a cancer patient, while finding a way to keep my tribe informed about my progress. I literally didn’t have the energy to return all the wonderful phone calls, texts and emails I received at the time.

At first my posts attracted the kinds of comments one might expect – messages of love and support in the main. But as I progressed people started relating my musings on this ‘adventure’ to things they were going through in their own lives – an acrimonious divorce, the death of a parent, a crisis at work.

While the blogs were a fantastic form of personal therapy, the comments and reactions from readers provided the greatest healing of all.

And now the whole shebang is available as a book entitled My Big Breast Adventure or How I Found the Dalai Lama in My Letterbox. I, for one, hope that many more people might be helped by hearing my story.

And if you would like to secure your very own copy, For Pit Sake Publishing will be offering a 10% discount to anyone who uses the coupon code 'WRITING' at the checkout in the For Pity Sake online shop.

Breast Regards.

Sarah's letter to the author of 'Vegetarian Vampires'

Dear Jen, Firstly, thank you for putting the manuscript for Vegetarian Vampires and What We Can Learn from Them in my path at this time.

It’s such a fantastically rich book. I loved how it is structured for each day of the week. It almost reminds us that we can only ever take one day at a time, that it is OK to start small, start somewhere, just start. I LOVE your writing voice, the weaving of topical references with personal experiences and humour. I laughed while reading this book - sometimes a dry ‘ain’t that the truth’ or a ‘oh I completely understand’ chuckle - although the ‘What would Edward Cullen do?’ question at the end of Day 3's essay gave me a great big belly laugh.

There were so many things that resonated with me, and I think they are best encapsulated by these little notes that I made while reading:

  • What a fantastic reminder that we only have ONE life. We might try to categorise and section off parts of our lives, but what we do in our work lives affects the same ‘us’ as our personal lives.
  • I need more stillness in my life.
  • We have more sway over our own lives than we realise. How often do we hear people who have made ‘life changing’ decisions say ‘I can’t believe I didn’t do this years ago’?
  • What a liberating idea; we are the choices we make.
  • The section on Vegetarian Vampires and the fact that while some decisions might start out requiring loads of willpower but the choice becomes easier and easier the more times we make it, resonates with me. I have a condition that results in hairloss and am completely bald. When I first started going out in public without a wig on I had to consciously muster up a sense of courage and strength in order to be brave. Now, I don’t think twice about being bald in public, I don’t need to ‘be brave’ everyday. That strength is now a part of who I am.
  • All of this is possible. Of course we’ll stuff it up and make a mess of it and try to fight against that rip instead of letting go. But that’s when we need a book like this, to remind ourselves that that glorious mess of a journey is my life, my one life. I own it, and today I decide to embrace uncertainty, live lovingly and be myself on purpose. And laugh. Always laugh.
  • I need to read this book again. And then again the month after that.

You have truly given with love in this book. Much love to you, and thank you once again.

Sarah Peters PhD Theatre Student, University of Southern Queensland

Sarah Peters Headshot