Nancy’s point is: cancer was not a gift and it didn’t make her a better person.
Nancy Stordahl’s life changed in April of 2010. After the emotional trauma of losing her mother in 2008 to metastatic breast cancer, Nancy was diagnosed with stage 2b breast cancer and was told she was carrying the brca2 gene mutation. Determined to connect and share her story, she launched her blog nancyspoint.com, as a way to educate and blog about metastatic breast cancer, loss and survivorship.
A free-lance writer, Nancy decided to write her memoir titled “Cancer Was Not a Gift & It Didn’t Make Me a Better Person”. As Nancy says, It is not a “rah-rah, I came out a better person” story. But rather, it is an unrestrained and frank discussion of the “messy realities” of cancer disease from the perspective of family, loss and survivorship.
As an active contributor to the Huffington Post, Nancy writes articles for several magazines, has been featured on radio discussions and was a guest panelist at the Living Beyond Breast Cancer 2014 Fall Conference in Philadelphia, PA.
Nancy, on your blog nancyspoint.com, you share your personal breast cancer story in a very candid and emotional way. Can you tell us about your experiences as a caregiver to your mother with metastatic breast cancer and how your own stage 2 breast cancer diagnosis has changed your life forever?
Breast cancer rudely and abruptly intruded into my life on my birthday in 2004, the day my mother discovered a lump in her breast. I sometimes refer to cancer as the very unwelcome, uninvited intruder that showed up at my birthday party and never went away. My life changed forever that day.
My mother’s diagnosis came shortly after that day and both our lives began following very different paths. A lumpectomy and radiation were supposed to be enough for her. They weren’t. Her cancer metastasized in 2007, and she died from metastatic breast cancer in 2008. Witnessing a loved die from this wretched disease changes you forever.
Two years after my mother’s death, I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I tested positive for the BRCA2 gene mutation and my personal cancer domino effect was set in motion. It continues to this day. So yes, I am changed forever and not just physically. The emotional scars run even deeper. I share candidly about all of these things on my blog.
Your blogs are a great resource guide for breast cancer, from diagnosis to emotional challenges. You state you are not happy with “the current state of affairs in breast cancer”. What do you mean by that?
First of all, it’s not all about early detection. Early detection is important, of course, but it is not the whole story. Even when “caught” early, roughly 20-30% of breast cancers will still metastasize. My mother’s case is a good example, as she was diagnosed at an early stage. And some women (and men) are initially diagnosed at stage IV and no, this does not mean they did anything wrong. This stigma really needs to go.
Secondly, women and men with metastatic disease have not been fully embraced by the Pink Machine. For too long their stories have been mostly ignored. In addition, the numbers are not even accurately tracked when metastasis does happen after an initial early stage diagnosis.
Thirdly, a dismal amount of money donated in various breast cancer awareness/funding campaigns is actually earmarked specifically for metastatic research. This has to change. Most importantly, despite the decades of awareness, the number dying from metastatic breast cancer hasn’t changed all that much in years. How can we call this good enough?
So no, I am not happy with the state of affairs in breast cancer. In addition, there is too often a tendency to downplay the seriousness of this disease. There is way too much sexualization and trivialization going on. Breast cancer is not pretty, pink, or gift-like. Period.
Your latest book and memoir, “Cancer was a Not a Gift & It didn’t Make Me a Better Person” paints a picture of your cancer experience with raw candor, candid journal entries, frankness of emotions, honesty, realistic outcomes and loss. What is the message that you want our readers to take away from reading your book?
I tried to make it very clear what my book is about with my title. I want a person to know what she/he is getting. I am beyond weary of the “cancer is a gift” mentality that is out there. In a nutshell, my book’s main messages are: Having cancer is bad enough; no one should feel pressured to smile her/his way through it. You are allowed to do cancer (and grief) your way. Ditch the societal expectations for both, and there are many.
As an advocate for metastatic breast cancer, you had clear goals that you wanted to talk about in your memoir. Can you explain what a few of the most important ones were and how you view their outcomes?
The stories of metastatic patients need to be told, too. Far too many families do not get that happy ending, which is the typical story we are spoon-fed in Pink Ribbon Fantasy Land. I shared candidly about the impact of metastatic breast cancer on my family because I wanted to give readers a glimpse into the turmoil and heartache, without going overboard with grim details. Another goal of mine is to raise a few dollars for metastatic research. 10% of my book profits will be donated toward that goal.
You have compiled several lists of lessons learned from loss. Why did you decide to build these lists and do you have any lessons that are more impactful to you?
I compiled those lists (and they are not complete) because when a loved one dies, you realize grieving is very complicated and an ongoing thing. Just like with cancer, society tends to pressure us to put our grief quickly behind us and get on with things. Cancer and grief are not that tidy. Grieving is very personal, too, and only your way is the right way for you to do it.
Survivorship is such an important topic. What do you see as the top 3-5 key survivorship needs for the metastatic breast cancer community?
Survivorship is complicated for many reasons. Even the word survivor is complicated for many of us. Cancer is a horrible experience and survivorship is no picnic either.
As far as your question and how it relates specifically to the metastatic community, the bottom line is these women and men and their families deserve more years, not months. They deserve better and less harsh treatments because quality of life matters too. They deserve support from the early stagers as well as inclusion in all breast cancer awareness/funding campaigns. They deserve to be counted. They deserve more answers, which will only come through research, and more of that is sorely needed. They deserve so much more than what they are presently getting.
We can do better.
We must do better.