Cancer. It’s a coarse, jagged word. Rough as the sound is, the meaning is even rougher. To physicians, cancer means malignancy—the out-of-control growth of cells. To patients, cancer means terror and lurching nose to nose with finality.

The treatment is brutal. As Susan Love, the distinguished and sometimes controversial breast cancer surgeon, describes—first they cut you, then they poison you, then they burn you, and you are grateful. And then there’s the psychological impact.

Losses, like dirty laundry, pile up quickly. The sense of wholeness and well-being is the first to go, and then identity—the life-long sense of who I am—unravels. Innocent fantasies of togetherness, the comfort of bodily integrity and the ability to ignore tough things fall away. Ultimately dignity, confidence, and hope vacillate and, in a terrible stroke of unkindness, hair disappears.

The medical system, advertised as giving care, dishes out hurtful brutalities in the name of cure or palliation. It seems unending. Seasons change. Winter melts into spring which blossoms into summer which fades into fall which then returns to winter—and the assaults continue. Until they end. Then it’s over and the sun shines again on a forgiving world.

This is the story of my journey… through cancer and beyond.