Today, my guest is Bronwyn Hope who recently self-published her memoir The Breast is History, depicting her painful yet humorous journey through breast cancer.
Your book the Breast is History is a culmination of blog entries through your cancer experience. How difficult was it to write about what you were going through?
It was not always easy, put it like that. I found it especially difficult as my treatment wore on. Chemotherapy works incrementally so with each dose, you get wearier and wearier. By the end I was pretty exhausted and there were days when I felt quite angry at myself for putting myself in the position I had. But as you know, once you have a contract with a reader, as a writer you have an obligation to follow through.
It’s an interesting title; can you explain the significance behind it?
Initially it was just a play on words – something I’m fond of doing. I had a few working titles and finally chose this one after a small pop survey I did of around 55 of my Facebook Friends. This was by far the most popular. But after thinking about it, it wasn’t just the most popular but also the most appropriate. The title works on many levels. Firstly, it quite clearly states what the story is about: what happened to my breasts. At the same time, I’m making a statement I guess that the most important part of my ‘history’ is my ‘breasts’. Also it’s quite humorous – my breasts were definitely history after the extent of my cancer was determined. That is, they were doomed.
What do you hope to achieve out of sharing your experience with breast cancer?
There are many things I hope to achieve but most importantly, I hope to be able to provide support to women who have or who have had breast cancer, their family and supporters. Despite the huge volume of information and discussion in the public domain about breast cancer, the fact is there is really not a lot of really good first-hand information about what patients think and feel. Most of the information out there is quite clinical. Also, the bulk of it is in the past tense and, having been through it all, I can tell you that it is unlikely that anyone will really recall events exactly as they unfolded unless, like me, they were writing about it in the moment.
You’re noted for your dry wit and sense of humour, which comes through in your memoir. How important was it to maintain a sense of hope through humour?
I’m not sure I did this consciously but certainly, for me, personally, humour is an important tool – it is a way to help others connect to my story. At the same time, it’s a way for me to show people that you know, it doesn’t all have to be doom and gloom. I know my sense of humour isn’t always appropriate. It is dangerous territory when I am trying to be funny as I often say or do the wrong thing in my efforts to be funny. But where this particular story was concerned, I gave myself permission to be my own brand of ‘funny’. It is almost a natural reflex for me to laugh at adversity. Maybe I’m a weirdo?
Your readers got to share your journey, got a deeper understanding of what it’s like to experience breast cancer but what did you get out of writing this memoir?
At the very least, I have a good record of a particularly intense part of my life and I’ve had the opportunity to clarify my own thinking through the writing process. It has also given me a chance to thank the many people who helped me and continue to help me, in the best way I know how – by recording THEIR part of this important story about a life-changing event. I also do get satisfaction out of imagining that I really will make a difference to someone. As it is, I’ve already received consistent feedback from people who have finished the book about the way I was able to mine (sic) their emotions. I love that.
Throughout the memoir, you write about the support of your family and friends. Were they a crucial part of your journey through cancer and into remission?
Absolutely. If there is such a thing as a ‘dream’ cancer this was it. I had such fantastic care and support from so many people. I feel sorry for anyone who has to endure a cancer battle alone. It is so tough and so isolating, we all need to know there is someone around we can rely on to hold us up when we really feel like falling down. It’s really the people around you who give you the desire to keep going. I’m not sure how I would have coped without my family and friends.
How has breast cancer changed you?
The process of change after breast cancer is an ongoing and quite nuanced process. It certainly provides a different perspective on life, perhaps a bit more clarity. If I had to pick one identifiable change though it would have to be that I feel much more fearless, I am more bold, perhaps because I realise I may not have time to shilly shally. Who knows how much time I have left on this earth? I really don’t fear anything much anymore: death, failure, losing, whatever. It has also made me a lot more cautious about the future. Who knows what’s around the corner. Good? Bad? Whatever it is, I try to focus on the moment because, you know, this could be as good as it gets.
What are the three most important pieces advice you’d want a woman who has just been diagnosed with breast cancer to know?
That’s a great question:
1. Tell yourself the right story and don’t panic needlessly. Whatever you’re imagining, it’s not that bad. Plenty of women have survived and even flourished after breast cancer and chances are, you’ll be one of them
2. Say ‘Yes!’ when help is offered. Many of your friends and family will feel helpless in the face of your diagnosis. Whether they want to cook for you or take you for an outing or meet you for coffee or send you gifts you don’t need, be gracious and accept. A rejection of an offer of help is like a slap to their face and you should be ashamed of yourself for rejecting it.
3. Cancer can’t stop you living your life. You have cancer. You haven’t lost an arm or a leg. If you think like an invalid you’ll be an invalid. Your brain is your servant. So put positive thoughts to work for you and keep on being the best you you can be.
You can purchase a book of The Breast is History from Bronwyn’s website http://www.thebreastishistory.com/