Faith, Family & The Follies - My Sister's Brave Battle With Breast Cancer!

I could not let this month go by without paying tribute to all the women - and men - who have
Bravely Fighting Breast Cancer
fought or who are bravely confronting their battles with Breast Cancer.
I feel so encouraged that in my lifetime, I have witnessed incredible support, attention, and financial resources being directed towards early detection, effective treatments, and finding a cure for Breast Cancer. Indeed, amazing strides have been made. At the same time, women and men -and their loved ones - continue to be affected by this insidious disease.

With the diagnosis of Breast Cancer  or when an individual receives a life –threatening or life-altering diagnosis – of any kind - each person responds or reacts in different ways.  There are so many variables at play such as age and overall health issues, family members and their ages, financial resources and means, professional constraints, and personalities, just to name a few. And of course, there is the fear and uncertainty of what lies ahead. All of these factors can and do affect stress levels as well as one’s physical strength and mindset to navigate through the treatment process.

Over the years that I was in practice, it wasn’t uncommon for clients to experience life-altering or life –threatening diagnosis during our treatment time together, or because of a diagnosis many clients came for counseling to help assist with the emotional and psychological challenges that often accompany serious illness.  From my experiences with clients, I’d like to share a couple of keys that may help us in understanding some of those feelings or emotions that accompany a diagnosis such as breast cancer.

First, I remember clients who experienced tremendous grief.  This makes sense. There are  feelings of loss – certainly the loss of one’s health, loss of one's physical appearance, and/or the uncertainty of returning to a healthy state .  However, there can be additional losses as well: financial, relational, professional, etc. (as we have alluded to).  So, as with any kind of grieving process, it is understandable that individuals go through the stages of grief –  denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance.  It is important to understand that these feelings are normal – and to give oneself time and permission to process them.

Secondly, another very common reaction or response to a life-threatening or altering diagnosis that I heard from many clients was,

”Holli, I feel like my body is betraying me. I’ve eaten right – I’ve exercised – I’ve done everything I was supposed to do. Why is this happening to me?”  

Again, my purpose here in sharing this response is to normalize it.  Yes, many individuals do experience a sense of betrayal and their feelings of confusion, worthlessness  and powerlessness over the diagnosis are real and they are deeply painful. And, it is critical to give ourselves time to honor those feelings and work through them, just as we would work our medical/physical treatment program.  

Performing At The Follies

When my older sister - Terry Peterson - was diagnosed 20 years ago with Stage Three Breast Cancer, I remember feeling one emotion - fear. We have always had an extremely close relationship, and at age 44, I was so afraid that she was going to die. Although there is much to share about her remarkable recovering journey (for more, listen to our interview Faith, Family & The Follies - My Sister's Brave Battle With Breast Cancer  ), for the purpose of this blog, I am going to share briefly how Terry battled Breast Cancer with grace and with courage - incorporating 3 Keys in her journey.

  • Faith - Terry's Christian faith is a guiding principle in her way of being and of living. Her unwavering belief provides her with an inner strength that serves her well in all aspects of life. Whether it was finding and securing the best medical care to treat her cancer, turning to her support system at church for help with food, travel, family  needs, etc., or leaning into her God for peace, promise, and for prayer - Terry's faith has been and is her source and her force. 

  • Family - When I think of a female who is the consummate wife and mother - who is good at anything she does or puts her mind to - but who always puts family first, I think of my sister. So, it was no surprise that when Terry became ill, she never complained and she continued to model uncompromising spirit and strength. I remember when she lost all her hair and when she was incredibly weak and horribly sick to her stomach - Terry made time for her children and her husband. She laughed with them, made memories with them, and she prayed with them. Terry's selfless giving to her family gifted her with healing in return. 
  • The Follies - After Terry had been taking Tamoxifen for two years (following a year of chemotherapy and radiation treatment), she knew she had to do something more to feel better. After attending a performance of the Santa Cruz Follies(a 50 plus theatrical ensemble),Terry knew she wanted to be a part of it. Although she was still too young to join, Terry immediately started taking beginning tap, ballet, and jazz. Even during her most difficult times, Terry was dancing up to 12 hours per week. In, 2001, Terry officially became part of The Follies. Today, she celebrates 15 years performing with them.  This year, Terry created, directed, and performed in their production of Those Were The Days"!
So proud of my sister - Terry Peterson!

Because there are other women in the ensemble who are also Breast Cancer Survivors, Terry openly shares,

"The camaraderie, encouragement, and understanding of one another's experiences is invaluable to one's perspective and healing."

Each person's journey through a life-changing or life-altering diagnosis is unique.  Although we should not make judgments or draw comparisons, it is encouraging to learn from the lessons of others. When I think of my sister - Terry Peterson - of her commitment to Faith, Family, and The Follies, I am in awe of her...

And, when I think of Terry's legacy, these words from the song I Hope You Dance seem to say it all...

I hope you still feel small when you stand beside the ocean
Whenever one door closes I hope one more opens
Promise me you'll give faith a fighting chance
And when you get the choice to sit it out  or dance

I hope you dance
I hope you dance


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