Seven years prior to her breast cancer diagnosis, Ruthanne Larsen Brown felt achy/sore around her breast area. She followed up with a doctor, who gave her the all clear and told her she would be a lot more sick if she had cancer. It was a statement that not only gave her relief, but stuck with her. It’s why, seven years later, she ignored the same aches and sore feeling, instead opting to address it at her mammogram. The testing would reveal stage 2 breast cancer with indications it had spread to the lymph nodes.
At the time, treatment felt overwhelming, especially because she had a 17, 15, 13 and 11 year old at home. Ruthanne forged ahead with a lumpectomy, chemo and radiation. Her doctor advised her to cut her hair short immediately, so she could get used to that before having to shave her head: “having clumps of your hair fall out is really distressing.” She eventually got the hang of chemo, understanding when her body would feel worse and when she would have more energy. Of this time she notes, ““I really did get through it well, but it was awful- first the diagnosis and then the thick layer of anxiety that followed.” The anxiety was mostly due to being seen as a cancer patient: “I really didn’t want the pity of people looking at me with a scarf on my head. So I did all the things I used to do because I did not want that pity.” She got her kids up for school, took daily walks and did all the grocery shopping. All of these things helped her shed a layer of anxiety.
The reality was, treatment was exhausting, so learning to accept help was key. For Ruthanne, accepting the generosity was twofold: “it was great me for me- even if I had the energy to cook- I had all these meals. Also, friends and family feel so helpless if you don’t let them do something.” It soon became a joke with her children about who cooked dinner that night. Having her community rally for her meant a lot, especially because cancer perhaps revealed the cracks she had in her own marriage. Indeed, Ruthanne notes that though extremely painful, cancer’s silver lining was helping her move closer towards the things she said she would always try. Though she eventually divorced, Ruthanne gained a whole new exploration of herself. She has completed 15 triathlons to date, joined a singing group and has even begun training women out of a home gym. In all, though strange for her to say, cancer “helped me do the things I want to do.”