The Big C and Me:  My Cancer Story

The Big C and Me: My Cancer Story

My Cancer Story

My Cancer Story is a collection of my blog posts and articles about my cancer experience over the years. I decided to pull them all together into one place to make them easy to find.

This turned out to be a much bigger projected than I expected. I’ve cataloged more than thirty here so far, and there are many more to add.

my cancer story | CoffeeJitters | Judy Schwartz Haley

This is a work in progress. I will continue adding the posts already completed as well as the new posts to come, so check back from time to time. Tags are coming soon to allow for searching by topic.

It has been an eye opening exercise to go back through these posts and see how my attitude, perspective, writing style, and my life in general have all evolved over time.

My hope is that these pieces will provide someone with cancer some measure of hope, comfort, and useful information to help them along this difficult road. Even if you don’t have cancer, you just might find this story interesting.

My Life with Cancer

Living with Dying

Thoughts on friendship and cancer.

We hold on to each other, we revel in memories, and we pop a bottle of champagne to toast your memory while flipping cancer the bird. We embrace those who are still with us, and carry forward the memories of those who have gone before us.

How Comparing Pain Multiplies Suffering

No one should feel shame for experiencing pain. Pain is not a competition; it’s real and it’s valid.

Taking Back October

My friends are dying, and it’s not for lack of awareness.

Breast Cancer Awareness month can be a big money making machine, but make sure your donations actually make a difference

In the Moment

Contemplating a cancerversary (anniversary of cancer diagnosis) and embracing moments of pure joy.

The cancer experience changes over time.




Have you ever watched little kids make friends? It blows me away with it’s simplicity and straightforwardness. They just run up and start playing together. No introductions necessary. No concern over who lives in what kind of house, or wears designer labels, or whose mom drives what kind of car. Shame and embarrassment and comparison? All that comes later. Much too soon, sadly.

In the meantime, I’m learning from this kind of authenticity.

holding hands

This is my daughter and her cousin, caught up in “I’m so happy to be here with you, I just wanna hold your hand.”

So precious.

Let’s Connect

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A new day

A new day

On April 15, 2013, terrorists detonated two bombs near the finish line of the Boston Marathon. Three people were killed, and many others were seriously wounded.

There have been several occasions in my life where chaos and violence shifted my perception of time, even if I was physically far from the event. Time slows down, speeds up, sometimes feels like its hiccuping or repeating itself as we hit refresh over and over and over again on the browser, or the same scenes are replayed by each of the major networks. But these aberrations in my sense of time, and in my sense of safety, never stopped the sun from going down at the end of the day – and never stopped the sun from rising the next morning.

A new day, with a new set of challenges, including the challenge of wrapping my head around yet another wave of violence. But that fresh start is also an opportunity for a fresh perspective, for evolving the way I look at the situation, and the world.

This morning, it was the sunrise that woke me up. Our bed is on the west side of our home, but for a brief minute the rising sun lasered it’s way through the balcony, through our living room, down the hall, and across my bed on the far side of our bedroom. The precision required to get the light across that space is remarkable, with maybe an inch of leeway. I know the light did not have a will of it’s own, but it sure felt like it was trying to get my attention.

The sun always rises

The sun always rises. But it’s not really rising, is it? The sun stays in the same place, and we revolve around it. It’s our changing perspective, in the physical sense, that brings the sun back into our little corner of the world each morning.

In the moments when the world seems dark and evil, it’s a change in my perspective that shifts my attention to the light.

As a child, I was taught that all people are evil at their core, but I no longer believe that is true. I believe most people don’t want to hurt anyone. In fact, I believe most people would go out of their way to avoid causing physical harm to another person. I believe most people want to be helpful. I believe most people want to do good. I believe that right this minute, people from all over the world are praying for Boston, and for the victims and their family members. I believe that when I small handful of people do something evil, a much larger group of ordinary people rise up and perform heroic tasks without even realizing it. They do it because they are there, and it’s the right thing to do. There’s no time to think about whether or not their good actions will be recognized.

Nature always seeks a balance

Yes, there are evil people in this world, and one way or another, they’ll get what’s coming to them. I want them stopped, to prevent another tragedy, but I refuse to invest any of my own limited life in thoughts of revenge. Karma will get them, even if no one else does. Nature always seeks a balance.

In the meantime, I choose to focus on the people healing, and the people doing good. These stories keep reminding me that despite the presence of evil, there is so much hope for the human race.

10 Touching Acts of Kindness at the Boston Marathon

People offering space in their homes to strangers stranded in Boston

Patton Oswalt put it beautifully, and again I marvel at how our comedians can cut right to the heart of the matter – Modern day court jesters who speak the truth others are too fearful to say.

To the bad guys: “the good outnumber you, and we always will.”  Patton Oswalt

for Michele

for Michele

She would have appreciated the fact that she died at 4:20 on April Fools Day. That was our Meesh: If you can’t change the inevitable, then you might as well find a way to have fun with it.

meesh 1

We can also thank her for the fact that for a couple hours at her memorial service, that church housed more boob jobs than a porn convention. That would be us, her sisters in this breast cancer sorority none of us wanted to join; a sorority from which we all gain so much strength and comfort, and even joy.

Most of the time, we don’t pay attention to the way people look at us when we are out together: the surprise when they find out we all have breast cancer, followed by the sad eyes when they realize we are all going to die. We look so normal. We’re smiling, and laughing. How can we be laughing?

The truth is that we are all going to die. So are you. Some of us just happen to be on an accelerated schedule. That’s where Michele’s wisdom helped me the most. Michele had a way of telling her story so that it didn’t terrify the newly diagnosed girls. She would spin the story each time, so it came out with a message, a little moral or lesson to tie up the anecdote like the “you see, Timmy” at the end of each episode of Lassie. She didn’t preach, she just showed us how to call bullshit on bullshit, how to advocate for yourself, how to pick up and move on, and how to focus on what you can change, and how to spend your time and energy on what really matters.

During the service, the Pastor shared Michele’s words. I didn’t write them down as he was speaking, so I must paraphrase, but they really stuck with me:

“Don’t wast your time on people who suck your soul out of you. Life is too short. Invest your life in what matters, because in the end, what doesn’t matter… doesn’t matter.”

I’m still angry that she’s gone. I’m still angry that her young daughters will grow up without her. But Michele would not want us to allow our anger or sadness to diminish the richness of our lives.  Michele put so much love and energy and strength and wisdom out into the world; her influence lives on through all of us. Robert Holden said “the real work of our life is to love and be loved,” and the best way we can honor Michele’s memory is to do just that.

Thank you, Meesh, I’m a stronger woman for knowing you.

2012 – A year in review

A look back at the year that was.

  • I dove into the Winter/Spring semester as a full time student.
  • I went to New Orleans to attend the Conference for Young Women affected by breast cancer.  It was so powerful to be in a place with nearly 1000 other young women living with breast cancer.
  • It’s not where you’re going, or the conditions along the way; I learned that what really makes a difference is your traveling companions.
  • A friend I never met passed away.
  • I lost my inspiration, and then found it again at the grocery store.
  • Reviewing my pictures from New Orleans inspired some contemplation on my own guarded and self-protective tendencies.
NOLA 515


  •  My little girl reminded me that adventure is where you create it.  My favorite quote of her’s yet: “Adventure makes me happy, and I have my shoes on.”


  •  I was challenged to chronicle just one hour of my life for a blog post, and the results were magical.
  •  I realized that I am still re-learning how to dream after cancer. “I’ve reached the point where I understand what I have been intuitively trying to do, yet simultaneously resisting – to improve the flexibility and range of my imagination, of my ability to re-dream my future.”
  • I was profiled on Parenting with Cancer.
  • Two years after chemo, I finally got my hair back into a ponytail.
  • Every year, I run away with my girls from the Young Survival Coalition (young women with breast cancer) for a retreat at the Harmony Hill Retreat Center. It’s a slumber party for grownups, but even more important, for a moment, we’re in a place and group where life with cancer is normal, and everyone understands what we’re going through.



  •  I wrote a piece for Survivorship Partners on Cancer and Guilt, when I noticed how much judgement there is around a cancer diagnosis. Nobody deserves cancer, not even me.
  • I traveled to Indianapolis to attend the Affiliate Summit for the Young Survival Coalition, and to participate in the process of changing much of the structure of that organization. The experience left me with a powerful lesson in change management.
  • My husband went to Istanbul to present his research at the International Society for Iranian Studies Conference. While he was there, he had a significant health crisis. I didn’t blog about that part, but it was more terrifying to me than my own cancer diagnosis.  He’s healthy now, however, and he did manage to get a few great photographs of Istanbul while he was there.
  •  We attended the cutest birthday party ever. Our cousin’s daughter’s 3rd birthday party had a dinosaur ballerina theme. Perfect, as Gem is into dinosaurs and ballerinas, as well. You really can’t go wrong with homemade dinosaur tails and tutus for each of the kids.



  •  In Taking Back October, I mourned the loss of one of my favorite months, October, to the Breast Cancer Awareness money making machine, and I discussed the difference between working towards awareness for the most well known cancer, and working towards a cure.
  • Plans for my second mastectomy and reconstruction surgery started in earnest. My surgery is scheduled for 2/4/13. Mom will be flying down from Alaska to take care of my little one.
  • Cancer didn’t make me stronger, it sapped my strength like nothing I’ve ever experienced. Here’s what did make me stronger.


  • I came to understand the power of gratitude, and the benefit of a gratitude journal.
  • The Fall semester of school was so exhausting for me that I made the decision to take a semester off from school starting in January 2013.
  • My little girl was overcome with the joy of giving.
  • And we had a magical moment when my daughter ran into Santa at the grocery store.

 Looking ahead

After a year of being very self-protective, guarded, and often feeling buried, in the dark, or underground, my word for 2013 is BLOOM.

That’s where it’s at – it’s time to stretch wide and soak in the rain and sun and everything else that comes at me.