Tuesday, November 06, 2007

The day that Dina died

Dina Rabinovitch (Photo from Guardian.co.uk)

Another post I've been meaning to make since last week's nightmare of busy-ness began, compounded by the countdown effect to leaving the country this Friday.

Last week, Dina Rabinovitch died.

She was a Guardian journalist and writer, who wrote about other things very very well but became most famous for chronicling her battle with breast cancer. She was diagnosed in 2004 and went through operations, mastectomies, chemo, radiotherapy, herceptin, tykerb and lord knows what else. She was Jewish, but did not have the breast cancer gene, and yet the cancer kept recurring. All this time she also mothered a large family and kept up her writing.

When I was diagnosed earlier this year one of my first reactions was to consume everything I could on the subject. Medical pieces, diet books, newspaper articles, memoirs - the lot. Her book, "Take off your party dress", was one of the things I read which I identified with most closely.

It's terribly sad she has died, and I can't help thinking of her husband and their children, and wondering quite how they are going to cope without her.

But these passages of life, death and survival, and the reporting thereof, have a huge impact on breast cancer patients everywhere.

When I was being diagnosed, the big media role model du jour was Kylie. Just back from a year of treatment, she was on stage and back to her shiny, bouncy, Kylie self. At least I could think of her and see someone who had made it through the wilderness of diagnosis and treatment and was out the other side, unchanged to the casual observer. I think this was significant to the way I was able to process the information I received and look at the whole thing as 'a hijacking' of life, rather than some sort of death sentence.

And yet there will be those women who will be getting diagnosed this week. And the next. And the next after that. For them, who will see Dina's name loom large in the headlines of articles they will be scouring, it must feel more like a death sentence.

Dina's own example of how to live with cancer is a very positive one, and yet she still died. The very fact of her death, or rather its prominence in the media coverage of such a disease, will undeniably have a chilling and negative effect on other women in her situation.

This is difficult to say, as we all like to think our first thoughts to be altruistic. I'd like to think that my first thought upon hearing of her death was of her husband and family. But that wasn't even my second thought - it came third.

It came right behind "That could have been me" and, more frighteningly, "That could still be me."

And I challenge anyone with any history of breast cancer not to feel the same horrible flickering of relief and dread in their gut when they hear such news.

We are, inherently, such terribly selfish creatures.


HelĂ´ said...

Anne, I know people find strenght in time of need through different sources. In my case, quotes are really helpful. Just yesterday I found myself looking for one, to help me out of a sad day (see below). I found these.

"In three words I can sum up everything I've learned about life: it goes on."
Robert Frost

Also by him: "The best way out is always through."

The mother of one of my cousins is dying of breast cancer. My dearest and lovely friend who would have been my stepmother, had my father outlived his second fight against cancer, was diagnosed with breast cancer.

Life goes on.
Keep strong.
big hug and enjoy your much deserved holidays.

Niamh said...

You write beautifully and express so much of how I feel. I cried about Dina but for me more than for her. It could have been me .. it still could be me, that knawing fear at 1.40am, when you are buzzed up with steroids, and lying in bed wide awake with your mind racing.
I had my last chemo session today and begin radiation after Christmas so looking forward to getting my life back. Was diagnosed with breast cancer back in March - two weeks after my 40th birthday. As you know its a long road. I have three small children so have given up work for now so I can give the energy I have to them.
You are brave and strong. Thank you for your blog. I have really enjoyed it.
Enjoy every minute of your holiday - you deserve it so much.
Take care
Niamh from Dublin, Ireland

Anne-Marie Weeden said...

Thank you Niamh. It always encourages me to know that there are people similar to me out there who 'get' something out of this blog. It wasn't started for others - but over the months thats sort of what it has become.

Good luck with the radio and well done for completing chemo. A few weeks time and you will feel lighter and healthier and more YOU on a daily basis. You are through the worst of it - almost. Radio has it's own joys but it is far, far, far the lesser evil.

And book yourself a holiday or mini break or some sort of treat for after you're done. It's great to look forward to and a fantastic uplifting 'book-end' to the whole hideous experience.

Best of luck