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Harriet Ling, LMBT

919.215.2116

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205 Lloyd St., Suite 203
Carrboro, NC  27510

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Saturday
Jul142012

"You have your whole life ahead of you..."

"You have your whole life ahead of you..."

To a 37-year-old mother of two who had just looked death in the eye, the impact of these words was huge.  When my doctor spoke them to me, the room stopped spinning for the first time since he’d told me I had breast cancer.

Today, as a massage therapist, I often work with cancer patients at many stages of their treatments and healing. I have found that the transition points beyond initial treatment can be overwhelming.

There is “Breast Cancer Awareness Month,” “Race for the Cure,” “Save the Ta-Tas,” “Rockers for Knockers,” Pink Ribbon this and Pink Ribbon that. Literally, at our fingertips, we learn to realize the importance of early detection. Some of us are informed of a positive diagnosis, followed by treatment options, and some (but far from all) of what to expect with each one.  We hear that new treatments are being discovered every day, that the diagnosis is not a death sentence; that there is plenty of reason to hope for and expect a cure.  We work with our doctors to formulate a battle plan, and we endure the ensuing series of progress and setbacks and the changes to our bodies. Eventually, we find ourselves at the other end of this particular journey.

When we complete the physically and emotionally intense treatment process, be it surgery, chemotherapy, radiation, or all of it...our friends and family are overjoyed. They all take a deep breath and celebrate the end of the nightmare. They may not realize how terrifying it can be for the patient to be suddenly released from the constant monitoring, thoughts, prayers, comforting shoulders, and the ever-present ears that listen to our fears.  This can be a very lonely time, and a bit of an unexpected free-fall.  In spite of our relief to have endured everything thus far, we may be surprised to find ourselves fearful, lonely, and sometimes depressed while we make this transition. 

Soon, we experience new anxieties over the additional physical and logistical after-effects of our treatments: lymph edema, peripheral neuropathy, scarring, radiation-induced tissue changes, hot flashes, and learning to shop for clothes that minimize our asymmetric shapes. We adjust. We accept. We move into yet another phase.  

Having been faced with the reality of our own mortality, we are more fragile.  Yet we are stronger.  Better. Wiser. More grateful. More hopeful.  We are ourselves again. Gradually being a Cancer Survivor ceases to define us and we realize... we made it.

I made it. 

“You’ve got your whole life ahead of you.”

Cancer patients need a tangible vision of what can “be.”  A real vision of hope. Something to strive for. Something to believe in.  And I believe - this positive outlook can improve the quality of their journey and possibly even their outcome.  Life after cancer is a concept whose time has come. 

My name is Harriet Dwight Ling and I am free! Cancer free. Nineteen years and counting! 


This is a recent photograph of what being “free” feels like for me, that life does go on. Wherever you are on your journey, remember to live your moments.