Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Wisdom Wednesday: Breast Cancer Awareness Month and Why I am Taking a Blogging Break

Image provided by Carol Sutton at
Warning:  This post may not be suitable for all readers.  It contains introspective and mystical content that may trigger discomfort or disdain. 

One of the things you start to pay attention to as a genealogist is when and how your ancestors died.  Most of my ancestors, on the Irish and Italian sides, lived long lives, even the ones born during the Great Famine.  My maternal grandmother passed away two years ago, days short of her 99th birthday.

My side of the family hasn't dealt with much cancer.  So maybe I took my own longevity for granted.  I didn't know that most women that get breast cancer don't actually have a family history of it.

Since I learned I was pregnant with the Bean, my lovely little girl, I've been careful.  I've tried to eat well, keep my weight down.  But I exercised too little and snacked too much.  I've made sure to look both ways before crossing the street, but still got knocked down by a truck once.  I've seen my doctor regularly, but I forgot to do my monthly breast examination.  I didn't realize how risky that could be.

As a result, last night, I had to tell the Bean that Mommy has breast cancer and it's in a few places it shouldn't be, besides my breast.  So now we know why I've been feeling so low since the end of August. 

To my surprise, today I feel better than I have in weeks.  I feel that today's new cancer treatments, plus all the support I've received from family, friends, coworkers and bloggers has built me an army that can kill cancer.

And my relatives and in-laws are part of my army.  I have been doing a visualization involving pulling out my tumours and replacing them with loving, healing light.  From the beginning, the living and the dead from my family tree have been joining me in the visualization, helping to heal me.  My Sweetie's mom, who survived breast cancer but not lung cancer, is there.  Her name was Helen, which means "light."  Helen, my Moynihan aunts and uncles, my grandmother are all helping.  And I swear that last night, my other grandmother, my namesake Katie, came by to give me a hug goodnight.

You know, I thought I was going to write about how it feels to add the yucky information to the family tree:  the illneses, the deaths, the tragedies.  But that's not really the lesson I want to share.  I've realized in writing this that whether we call ourselves genealogists or family historians, whether we research for fun or for posterity, genealogy has been giving back to us.  We're giving it dates and sources, it's giving us people.  Today, for me, it's giving me support and healing.  My family tree isn't a GEDCOM file.  My family tree is a network of people who have loved and protected their kin forever.  I've been trying to tell their stories in this blog.  And I think they are helping me to continue that work.

But for a little while, I'll need to take a break.  I understand I'm likely to feel worse before I feel better.  I'll be back to tell you how a Moynihan became a Monahan, about Alfred Burrows' WWI service, and many other stories.  When I can.

Til then, some homework for you:
  • Homework Assignment 1: Get caught up on those tests you've been forgetting about.  Check your breasts.  Get that mammogram.  See your doctor.  Tell your sisters, your daughters, your girlfriends, your wives.  Take care of yourself, so you can take care of your family.
  • Homework Assignment 2: I'd love to hear your stories of your ancestors reaching out to help and support you. I may sound a little crazy, but I don't think I'm the only one.


  1. My prayers and {{{hugs}}} are with you, Jim's Girl. And I'll think of you while I do my "homework" tomorrow morning. Maybe I'll even take a picture - that should be good for a laugh, right? :-)

    And may doctors and other smart people figure out how to stop this effing thing before our little girls have to worry about it.

  2. Thoughts and prayers ... and more prayers. Ooo, and more of that healing light! --GJ

  3. From one breast cancer survivor to another...I wish you all the best during your journey. Keep that positive attitude and keep visualizing that love around you. I'm sending more healing vibes your way!

  4. I wish you all the best in your fight against breast cancer. Your genealogy friends are here to support you. :) I was a caregiver for my husband who had testicular cancer. That changed our lives in too many ways. I still make sure he has his checkups and make sure I get mine. I recently had all my yearly exams done and this week had surgery to (hopefully) prevent cervical cancer. Haven't heard what the pathology results are yet. But this process has been a reminder to always have my exams and remind my girlfriends to have theirs.

    You are not crazy in thinking your ancestors help you or are supporting you. I wrote a book about my cousin Bob Brouk who lived a very short life. He was a Flying Tiger 1941-1942 in China. Came back to Chicago in July of 1942, met and married a woman named Virginia and three weeks after they married she watched him die in a plane crash. She disappeared a few months after he died. No one in the family knew what happened to her. A few years ago her grandson saw a post on a Flying Tiger board I made about Bob and put us in touch. She helped provide material and photos about him so I could write his story. I published his book in January. Just before I finished it Bob came to me in a dream. I don't remember what we talked about beyond the general topic of his life. I do remember we took a walk on a nice day and it was very peaceful. I hope he is happy that Virginia and I were able to tell his story so his memory lives on.

  5. Thank you for the little nudge to remind us what's important. Blessings to you and yours.