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One year ago today I sat in an examining room at Mass General, and a surgeon walked in and said, "you have cancer, we'll know more after we run some tests, I'll see you in two weeks," and walked out, leaving me shattered.

It's been a rough ride.

I didn't tell anyone for three weeks, although I did break down in front of my boss one day. But I couldn't tell my mother because I didn't have enough details, and I couldn't confide in anyone else at that point. I needed more information. Eventually I got some.

Since then I've learned a lot. I've learned about cancer, and treatments for cancer, and how people react.

I've learned that I was braver than I thought I was.

I've learned that many people have a lot of love and compassion to give. For every person who flinched, ten stepped forward to share hugs.

Many people stepped forward to say, "Me too." They were willing to share their stories, and offer help. Even listening to someone say that he or she had been through this, and survived, helped give me more strength to keep going.

I learned that many things I was afraid of didn't matter. I developed more patience with some people, and less patience with others.

I learned that shingles is not a funny disease.

I learned that you can fire your surgeon, and the sky won't fall in. I got a better, and more compassionate surgeon, in place of the first one.

I discovered that some of my views were unusual enough to surprise people with decades of experience. My oncologist was astounded when I used the word cancer right away. He has many patients who could never bring themselves to say the word, even all the way through treatment. But, according to Professor Dumbledore (of Harry Potter fame), "Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself." So I called it by its right name, right from the start.

I discovered that if you can keep going, with work, with exercise, with other interests, the problems aren't as overwhelming. Those who don't keep going, according to my radiation oncologist, are generally the ones who don't make it.

I've developed some wonderful friends, here on the boards, and elsewhere. People came forward to cheer me on, and to offer hope and laughter when times were rough. My co-workers survived the shock, and learned that I would carry on as usual. I learned that half of them had mothers who had survived breast cancer.

I found out that having a company where they say, "the most important thing is your health," is rare. All too many people are told that if they can't work specified hours, they needn't bother coming in.

I'm still learning. There's still a lot to learn.

This isn't a trip I would wish on anyone. But I decided that if I had to go through it, that I would not look for pity. I think I've managed that. (Although, from time to time, when I hear someone else whining about how tough things are, I've wanted to smack them. I've also discovered a terrible desire to hit anyone I see smoking).

The end isn't quite in sight yet. There are seven more radiation treatments to go, and more chemo to follow. The doctors won't know, ever, unless new tests are developed, whether or not the cancer cells have been permanently eradicated.

Thank you, all of you, for sharing this journey with me. You didn't have to travel over to this board, and I've appreciated everyone who came to visit.

Thank you. All of you.

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When Life Gives You Lemons
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