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By Contributing Mama Diane LeBleu

This was going to be the year I finally broke down and wrote the holiday newsletter. I have been making fun of family and friends on their efforts in this area for years now – It was time to put up or shut up. It’s like voting – you shouldn’t complain about a candidate if you won’t even bother to vote.

Plus, as an aspiring writer, I can use all the practice a captive audience will afford. I even sponsored a workshop dedicated to writing this annual tome as part of my ‘Writing Mamas Salon of Austin’ monthly gatherings at our local wine bar. However, in my inexperience in producing these letters of good will and cheer – what is the etiquette about communicating my breast cancer diagnosis?

I just found the news I had been dreading and almost expecting.  My twin sister lived through a lumpectomy, chemotherapy, and radiation at the young age of 33 almost seven years ago; my aunt died two years ago from breast cancer. This was not exactly a surprise but still not how I was expecting to be spending my new year – in the hospital, undergoing a bilateral mastectomy with reconstruction followed, perhaps, by chemo.

How does one communicate all this grim news in a Christmas card – usually so full of boasts and brags about how wonderful one’s life is and how brilliant one’s offspring have been demonstrating with their academic and athletic achievements throughout the year?

I am strong in faith and rich in friends and family who are willing and able to do anything possible to help me and my family through this time. I have prayers going out on my behalf literally around the world. I know I will get through this – I just do. My biggest fear? What keeps me up at night? Not will I die – we are all the walking dead.  But I know where I’m headed – it is asking for help and letting people help me. I’m not good at either one.

I’m one of these women – I think there are a few of us out here – who thinks I can do anything without help. I somehow manage with my super-duper efficient problem solving and time management skills to squeeze 25 hours out of every day and never miss a beat. Within 4 weeks, however, I’ll be flat on my back, tits up and will be forced to accept the offers from help I normally dismiss with an “Oh, thanks, I really appreciate it, but we’ll be fine.”

Part of me wants to wait another year on the newsletter – let it be a great announcement in a red and green and pink banner about my triumphant emergence from a grim trial of breast cancer and all it’s terrible repercussions but a bigger part of me (the needy part) wants to share my news with my extended network of friends and family across the country. I can use all the prayers and stories of encouragement I can get right now.

Despite my steely exterior and quick jokes about wearing my twin’s wig (finally, something you CAN actually wear twice!), I am in a constant flux of dread and denial, peace and passion for all the blessings in my life. The waiting is the worst – I know once January rolls around and I am finally on the path of treatment and recovery, I’ll have a brand new set of emotions and concerns.

In truth, I love to receive the holiday cards from loved ones I have not heard from since the last round of annual newsletters. It helps me to feel connected and engaged with the families I love but am separated from by many miles and time zones. I relish in the photos of children that grow so quickly and events – some mundane and some fantastic – that make up each of our lives.

I would hope to hear all the news from these folks – the good and the bad (nobody’s life could be all that great, right? Right?), otherwise, what is the point of sharing? It becomes family propaganda as opposed to friends in fellowship, and how can you serve and comfort and pray for those whose lives are perfect and free from peril? There is an Arabian proverb that states: A friend is one to whom one can pour out all the contents of one’s heart, chaff and grain together, knowing that the gentlest of hands will take and sift it, keeping what is worth keeping, and, with the breath of kindness, blow the rest away. I like the idea of that – and for those not on Facebook, the Christmas letter is the only way to stay in touch throughout the year.

So this year I will send out my first newsletter. I will write about the highs (like my recent trip to Budapest) and the very big low (my diagnosis of breast cancer). And I plan to close the letter like this:

“I don’t know exactly what 2009 has in store for us but I will take comfort in what Paul wrote to the Romans in Romans 8:28: And we know that in all things God works for the good of those who love him, who have been called according to his purpose.

I hope that by the time I sit down to write the 2nd annual installment of ‘The LeBleu Review’, I will have a little more clarity of what the purpose of my experience with this disease is. Until then, best wishes to your family for a wonderful Christmas and blessed New Year.”


Diane LeBleu is the mother of 4 children (Danielle, Travis, Sabrina and Caroline) and lives in Austin, Texas. She writes at The Writing Mamas Salon of Austin and Divine Caroline.

20 Responses to merry christmas! i have breast cancer!

  • myhouseof6 says:

    beautifully written diane –
    i can’t imagine myself in your shoes, but will pray extra hard for you throughout the holidays and next year. thank you for reminding me of my over abundance of blessings.

  • Terra says:

    It seems weird to say what a wonderful post but it really was a wonderful post, full of honesty and feeling. Bless you and your family and remember that hope is half the battle! Hang in their and have the best 2009 you possibly can. Oh and give those cute kids of your an extra hug from bloggy land.

  • Rhea says:

    Diane, I have lived in Austin for nineteen years and just moved away recently to the Dallas area. I was so excited to see you were from there!

    This was a nice post. You were so honest and forthright. I think people will appreciate the update, both good and bad, because it\\\’s more awkward not to know…or to hear about it from other people and not know how to address the person who is sick…you get what I\\\’m saying.

    Good luck. Kick cancer\\\’s butt!

  • You said this so well and I’m sure it rings true for many women who are strong, and organized, and on-the-ball–and who one day find out they’ll need help from others. I’m so glad you have faith and family to support you. Good luck. Here’s to a healthy 2009!

  • maggie says:

    Diane, you know you are my best friend. I would have been so sad to have heard the news from someone else. Go ahead and write that letter, it will be beautiful, just like this post. You have so many people who love you and will pray for you if you just let them know what is going on. I can’t wait to see you in a few weeks!
    Merry Christmas!

  • Cathy says:

    I’m so sorry to hear your news. You wrote about the conflict–the need the share and get support vs. the vulnerable position it puts you in–beautifully. I found out last week that my dad has liver cancer, and it’s put my life in a tail spin, that’s for sure. Anyway, you’re positive attitude will make all the difference. 🙂

  • Jessica Bern says:

    I know how you feel when it comes to asking for help. I hate to do it b/c I always feel like I need to repay the favor right away. This time is for you to be as “selfish” as you need to be. All of your readers and blogging friends are here for you.

  • ErinB says:

    Like others said before me- this is a beautiful post and I commend you on sharing your story so openly. I think as hard as it is to write your reality in a letter the people who read it will be touched to hear it personally from you and will feel blessed to be included. I wish you all the best for a healthy 2009 and will look forward to most posts :-}

  • Cici says:

    This is SO you, my friend. I love your honesty in this one. Thanks for sharing. We continue to pray to the Lord for your healing and for peace and are so blessed to walk through this with you.

  • tracey says:

    There aren’t many of us who like to ask for help, or accept it. After a much more minor surgery than you will undergo, I had to allow people to help me, though. And you know what? It was ok. I wasn’t thrilled about it, but I know that THEY felt better, and that honestly helped me to recuperate a little faster…

    Happy Holidays. May your battle with cancer be brief and victorious!

  • patois says:

    I think you’ve got the real purpose of those newsletters down pat: the good and the bad because we send them to the people we want to know the same from. Best wishes in your fight.

  • deb ringold says:

    Diane,  beautifully written post.  I have been in your shoes, and just celebrated 2 years of health and brand new boobs!  I understand about wanting to tell people your news.  When I was diagnosed, I called my old friends (including Kelcey’s husband) because I thought they would want to know what was going on with me.  And they did.  And they were wonderful.  I left a message for a friend in L.A. to call me back.  When he called back, I was in a movie.  I stepped out and said “I’m at a movie right now, but just thought you’d want to know that I have breast cancer.  I’m OK, I’m gonna have surgery next week, but I’ll call you back later when the movie is over.”  It is certainly a weird call to make or letter to write, in your case.  I too had a hard time letting people help.  But not only will you need the help, but your friends need to do something for you.  It sucks for them to feel helpless, so allow people in, and allow yourself to get better through the help of your friends.  It sounds like you have a wonderful support system, but if you ever need to chat, feel free to contact me by email.  Best wishes for a smooth surgery, a quick recovery, and a happy and healthy 2009.

  • susan says:

    Just a quick note from someone who was in your shoes a couple of years ago.  I did the bilateral mastectomy (really  not as bad as you might think, I promise) and the chemo (also not as bad, but more of a PITA)… and have to tell you, it will be behind you before you know it.  During treatment, time can seem to drag on, but from the perspective of two years post-BC… I can tell you it’s now a distant memory.  And it was nothing more than a bump in the road.  May it be so for you also.  Have a merry Christmas!

  • Jackie says:

    Your letter is beautiful.  You are an inspiration to all.  Keep looking to your faith in God during this time and know that you have more and more people everyday praying for you.  God Bless you.

  • Marlene says:

    Diane: Thanks for sharing – I stumbled across your post accidentally and it so touched my heart.  My best friend, Lyn, survived for 19 years through her journey with breast cancer – she passed away this year and I miss her every day. She taught me how to truly live with all that we are given – the good and the bad.

    I hope you enjoy a wonderful holiday season with your lovely family. Your positive attitude is the treatment that will sustain you.

  • Debbie R says:

    Okay, I’ve written this “comment” about 5 times, deleting each version due to a) crappy writing, b) sappy sentimentality, and / or c) stuff that I just would never say to you in person.  So here’s the deal: go kick this thing’s ass, keep writing as it’s a gift to yourself and those who read you, and know that you have a ton of support from “flesh” friends and cyberfriends.  Geminis are really amazing people!  

  • Theresa says:

    Very well written.  Live all the moments between the waiting to your fullest.  Attitude is so crucial to survival!  Have many happy and healthy new years!

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