What Works for Me Essay Contest, 1st place winner, Jan Westermann

This past summer, we hosted an essay contest for our Club Amoena members – breast cancer survivors who are fans of Amoena products. We chose 2 winners — this is the submission from our 1st place winner, Jan Westermann, of Bellingham, Washington. Look for her essay in your Winter/Spring 2012 issue of Amoena Life magazine.

Club Amoena member Jan Westermann

Humor and optimism worked for Jan!

I am a basic pessimist! What “works” for me is NOT having breast cancer. That was not an option in my life, so I had to follow two “nuggets of wisdom” that ended up being priceless! Both “nuggets” were hints on how to focus on the positive and become more of an optimist with breast cancer.

First, I purchased a beautiful new, blank journal. That journal went to every appointment with me, but in the hands of a willing friend or relative that could be a scribe at the appointment. The scribe had to be one who would write down everything said to me, both positive and negative, and not get caught up in the emotions of the moment. When a doctor said, “You have an 85% chance of beating this cancer,” I only heard, “You have a 15% chance of dying.” Later, after the appointment when information wasn’t hitting me at 190 miles an hour, I could re-read the words and find the positive to focus on.

Second, a radiation oncologist advised me to attach a pleasant activity to every appointment and treatment. Remember the first “golden nugget” dictated that I always had a kindly soul with me who knew about the journal — and about this second “pleasant” prescription. That person joined me prepared to find some good in our day. Some days I was up to trip around the mall; other days I could only eat an ice cream cone and watch my kids play on the playground. Other days that meant a drive around a neighborhood looking at fancy houses. For some appointments, it meant a night in a hotel close to the hospital or a doctor’s office. There I could watch my kids cavort in the pool or rest on a bed and watch a movie alone with my family. The activities varied, but the purpose was always the same: Find an enjoyable moment to cling to and appreciate.

Both of these “nuggets of wisdom,” faithfully followed, worked to allow my active cancer appointments and therapies to become more pleasant memories than they might have been if I had continued wallowing in my pessimism. No, cancer was not fun to have. No, I didn’t order the cancer. But, I was able to read my journal entries that encouraged me, telling me that my world might not come to an immediate end. And I had opportunities that allowed me to have some happy times with friends and family in spite of the journey I was on. Did these “nuggets” work? Yes, my now adult children do not see cancer as the “Big C Word,” and are wonderful support to others in the midst of battling cancer! And we really do have some fun family memories of cancer!

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2 Responses to What Works for Me Essay Contest, 1st place winner, Jan Westermann

  1. marilyn miller says:

    Jan is amazing! Her advice and wisdom in this article should guide many breast cancer patients to realize and practice the healing option of finding personal joy during those very difficult times. She doesn’t mention that she is a wonderful middle school teacher who has maintained her professionalism and concern for her students through all her medical ‘adventures.’

  2. Bill Westermann says:

    I am proud of my sister-in-law having known Jan for forty plus years. Her words of wisdom come from a woman who has been through a lot with this cancer and still always keeps positive thoughts and faith in the Man up above watching over us all.

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