Breast Cancer is not an Identity

Sandy Anderson cancer survivor professional development coach Austin, MN

Breast cancer. It was an experience but not an identity.

When I was first diagnosed in January 2016 with an aggressive form of breast cancer, this was my prayer: God help me to offer up this experience but don’t allow it to become my identity. A few Octobers have passed since I completed surgeries and treatments but I have felt prompts to acknowledge the experience and HOW it has impacted my work, HOW I show up for my family, practice self-care, lean into my faith and yet does not define WHO I am. Those close to me knew not to purchase anything pink. Not that there’s anything wrong with that, but for me, it felt commercial when it came to my breast cancer experience. I needed to guard my mind and heart’s identity. All the pink in October, well intended I know, but easily turned commercial. Don’t even get me started on some of the (again well intended I know) fundraisers that leverage names referencing breasts as sexual. Ok I’ll call out one: save the boobies. Really? Honestly, that felt like an assault and dismissal that we are talking about a human life battling a disease. I digress.

Cancer was an experience not an identity.

Your diagnosis, your circumstances, your disappointments, your regrets or shame…none of that is your identity: they are experiences. They are experiences that offer opportunity for you to reflect where you ground your identity. Where you find significance and security. For me it was Christ not cancer. That intentional mindset and the support of so many around me (especially my husband Kevin) that held me up with that decision created a different experience for me, but even more importantly I pray for those that I encountered. Touch points during my doctor appointments, treatments, choosing a wig, sitting waiting rooms. I pray it created a different experience for those I encountered in the grocery store as I wore a scarf because I just didn’t feel authentic and honest wearing Hattie (yes, I named my wig: Hattie the Hairy Hat). That’s a whole other story with unexpected dynamics and emotions I needed to process. But most importantly I pray that it created a different experience for those close to me. My sweet husband, my children and my grandchildren (born and not yet known).

You see, I get to be their Mimi. I got to hold my two grandsons in the MIDST of the cancer and on the other side of the experience I got to MEET my two granddaughters!

This is unmerited grace. This is Christ over cancer. This is separating identity from experience. This frame of mind changes just about everything.

The story is not over. Though the experience of cancer is behind me, it has left it scars (physically, mentally, emotionally). And yes I worry at times about it returning…a leftover scar. But those scars are just experiences…not my identity. My scars are held and healed by One greater than any earthly experience you or I will encounter. Though we can’t change the past we can reframe how we look at the past experiences and that will change how it impacts us today. How it impacts everyone you and I encounter. Because my friends, our experiences are not likely just about us. That frame of mind changes how we show up at the table.

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