It’s Not What You Get in Life

The words I heard most often from my mother are, “It’s not what you get in life, it’s how you handle what you get.” These words have shaped my life and become the essence of what I believe.

My mother faced so many challenges in her life: the birth of a severely autistic child in the era of blaming mothers for that diagnosis; breast cancer resulting in a mastectomy; a wayward husband and divorce; a serious hand injury following an automobile accident. But somehow she managed to keep her jealousy of others at bay and appreciate her own joys in

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How Not to Fly Away

It’s 1971 and we are in a green-tinted hospital waiting room, half-sterile, half-filled with sawhorses, wood planks, a drill, sitting in attached sickness-colored plastic chairs. My aunt–my father’s sister, whose ability to exclude herself from experiences by analyzing everyone else has diminished during this mutual terror–is at my right. Her long and elegant fingers cover my own. My younger sister, then brother, mother and older sister are to my left. We wait. It is the eternity of waiting for bad news while hoping for good.

The surgeon enters, scrubs matching walls. He lifts a hand and motions my mother to come

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Why I Need to Survive, What I Need to Survive

I considered the idea of survival only when I found out, postsurgery, that the cancer had spread to my lymph nodes. I wondered what would have happened had I waited any longer, had I ignored going to the hospital to follow up about the lump on my breast.

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I Carry My Cancer Patients in My Heart

“I am grateful for witnessing your courage, your strength is inspiring, your wisdom is eternal, and you are not alone”: These words, written on a paper heart with irises around it, sit on my desk. I feel fortunate to be a behavioral health clinician, providing therapy to patients with cancer who are undergoing radiation at Stanford’s Cancer Center.

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Invisibility

The glass doors yawn open, first one set, then the other. They don’t see me; they don’t hear me. They just sense me—automatically, electronically, a body approaching. It doesn’t matter my size, shape, or color. The doors don’t know whether I’m walking slowly or quickly; they don’t care whether I’m smiling or crying. They just blindly do their job, usher me in (and later out) of the building. Another patient, another day. 

Three women sit at the reception desk. More glass separates the sick from the well. Masks make everyone look like no one. A hand reaches out

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A Haunting Disease

I never told my father that his physicians had diagnosed him with pancreatic cancer. Since he was ninety-eight years old, I decided that telling him would only cause him profound mental and emotional anguish—a fear that would diminish however long he had to live but would not alter the reality. To have Dad endure rounds of chemotherapy or radiation at his age would also be physically cruel.

Most of all, I did not tell Dad because not even the doctors were one-hundred percent certain of their diagnosis.

For months, Dad had experienced attacks that left him light-headed and disoriented. By

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An Editor’s Invitation: Cancer

Dear Pulse readers,
I don’t have to go far to find a personal connection to cancer.
As I write this letter, I have friends battling brain cancer and pancreatic cancer.
Other friends have fought off breast cancer, oral cancer and colon cancer.

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