Seeing positive when others see negative
This post is also available in: Portuguese (Portugal)
— a breast cancer survivor’s story —
WARREN, R.I. — Being “perfectly negative” is so perfectly positive for Linda A. Fiorenzano.
Last fall, those were the exact words her oncologist chose to deliver the results of her first PET scan — a computerized imaging technique to detect tumors — nine years after she was diagnosed with invasive ductal breast cancer.
Those words also resonate deeply with her own experience, Fiorenzano told O Jornal. Since touched by cancer, she has learned to believe that the most perfectly negative events in life will lead to a beautiful and positive event.
“Everything in life happens for a reason and sometimes I’m not given the reason with the thing. Only when I look backward can I make sense of my present and make decisions for my future,” she said.
Fiorenzano’s journey through cancer started long before her diagnosis at the age of 36. Her mother passed away at the age of 69, after receiving her second breast cancer diagnosis two years earlier. Her sister died at the age of 49 due to her breast cancer metastasizing to her liver and lung. Her father died of lymphoma six months before her own diagnosis.
“I felt the lump myself, but I kind of let it go because my father had just passed away,” Fiorenzano said. “I went for my regular mammogram and it did not show up, but the doctor felt it… so they proceeded with a biopsy.”
She initially had a lumpectomy, but eventually opted for more aggressive treatment. She endured six cycles of chemotherapy instead of the typical four and underwent a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction.
“Not everyone agreed with my choice,” she said. “I felt clear about it after seeing what happened to my mother and sister. I wanted to survive for a long time.”
At times, Fiorenzano felt scared and treatment side effects took a toll on her, but she gained courage from what her mother and sister had gone through.
“From watching my mother and my sister I kind of knew what to expect,” she said. “I was frightened, but I drew a lot of strength from what they had gone through. If they were able to do this, so could I… Because enough is enough, I was even more determined to beat it and survive.”
Keeping a journal helped her keep the demons of fear at bay.
“Writing helped me document my feelings and what was going on around me,” she said. “As a cancer patient, you’re always trying to be so positive for other people around you, and sometimes you just have to let it go. It’s a very, very emotional time for people. I kind of turned to my journal a lot of times, where I might be positive in person but I might cry in the journal.”
Despite losing three loved ones to cancer within a seven-year period and going through a divorce, she chose to fight any feelings of depression or defeat with optimism.
“My positive outcome did not come overnight, trust me,” she said. “The way for me to survive is to think about cancer as just any other bump in the road. I know it’s life threatening, but I live my life thinking that any day any of us can be in a tragic car accident or be hit by any kind of tragedy. What breast cancer did for me was to open my eyes to that and gave me the attitude that you gotta live… you have to live in the moment with your loved ones.”
It is a piece of advice she frequently shares with women who come together to share their experiences at an informal cancer group she co-facilitates in Rhode Island.
“I know at first it’s scary, but I try to encourage them to think about a possible positive reason why they have to be going through this — either for themselves or a care taker or someone in their family,” said Fiorenzano.
She personally latches onto the knowledge and courage she gains from others in order to make necessary decisions that guide her forward to a positive place. She believes knowledge is power and power gives her courage and a small sense of control.
She said the best advice she can give anyone is to “choose the option that you won’t regret.”
However, since the positive does not always immediately follow the negative, Fiorenzano said she strives to keep her eyes, mind, and heart open to recognize and accept the positive event when it happens.
One week after receiving her PET scan results, the company she worked for as a senior technology project manager eliminated her position after 14 years of service. Once again she opted to see this latest loss as a blessing, using her unexpected free time to write her memoir.
“I felt that if I shared my experiences and got my story out there, I could help people have hope,” she said.
Her message of hope and healing is featured in a special edition of the “Chicken Soup for the Soul” about breast cancer released on Sept. 4. Her story “I miss my breasts” appears on page 55.
After completing the second draft of her memoir this week, she expects it to be available sometime next year.
“I am hoping the Chicken Soup is a stepping stone for me,” she said. “I hope I’ll find an agent, if not, my fiancé and I have decided to publish it ourselves.”
“What’s the chosen title?,” you might ask.
“Perfectly negative”… of course!
Email Lurdes da Silva at email@example.com