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Who knew? There's perks to having breast cancer, survivor says

Luncheon of Hope guest speakers prefer to focus on the positive

Five years ago, Florence Strang was undergoing her third round of chemotherapy for Stage 3 breast cancer.

The registered psychologist and single mother of three from Lewin's Cove, Newfoundland, was so weak she couldn't turn over.

Generally depressed with her situation, she came to realize she wasn't helping herself by wallowing in self-pity. She decided to dig deep and think of just one perk of having cancer. 

That perk was kind of funny. Strang realized she hadn't had to wash dishes in the months she battled cancer. Because that had brought a smile to her face, she decided to write a blog about the perks of having cancer.

It was through her blog that she struck up a cyber friendship with another breast cancer survivor. 

Susan Gonzalez of Atlanta, Georgia — a nurse and owner of an organic skin-care company — was diagnosed with breast cancer (also Stage 3) in 2005, and writes a blog about healthy living, a positive mindset and preventing cancer.

The two women say they were in tune with the positive message they wanted to get across. They've now written a book together based on their blogs. 

Entitled “100 Perks of Cancer plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It,” the book was published in 2013.

The two women — who only met each other face-to-face three years ago, after the book's publication — were the keynote speakers at the 18th annual Luncheon of Hope, which raises funds for the Northern Cancer Foundation.

Strang said a lot of the perks of having cancer she came up with are “just lighthearted and funny,” such as the fact she lost her eyebrows, and she got to try different eyebrow shapes until she found the perfect one.

“I also didn't have to worry about finding a Halloween costume that year, because what could be scarier than a bald, middle-aged woman with one boob?” she said.

“But a lot of the perks are just about appreciating life and seeing a different side of my family, and deeper and more meaningful.”

One such meaningful perk was her non-verbal, autistic son would write her love notes on the computer to let her know he cared. Simply realizing that her son — who lived a very internal life and was not overly demonstrative — recognized she was sick and tried to make her feel better, meant the world to Strang.

For her part, Gonzalez said finding out she had breast cancer and undergoing treatment was an emotional rollercoaster. But she said people always have the option of pulling a lever on that metaphorical rollercoaster to slow it down.

You can do this by living a healthy, active lifestyle, being engaged in your treatments and keeping a positive attitude, she said.

Early in her treatments, she chose to turn what would have been a traumatic event — shaving her hair — into something empowering by instead getting a mohawk haircut.

Gonzalez said she had never considered writing a book when Strang approached her the idea of writing one together.

“She said 'Do you want to write a book with me?'” Gonzalez said. 

“I said I think I'd rather marry you. But I loved the opportunity. I never even thought of the idea. 

“But my mission is to tell everyone about what they can do for themselves to empower people. I thought this was a great way to do it. We could reach a lot of people.”

Gonzalez said she and Strang want people to know they don't have to be a helpless victim of cancer or other difficult situations. “They can be empowered with small things they can do to change their lives,” she said.

Northern Cancer Foundation executive director Tannys Laughren said Strang and Gonzalez were the perfect guest speakers for the 18th edition of the Luncheon of Hope.

“Our whole luncheon has been about providing a message of hope and a message of support,” and that's just what the Strang and Gonzalez do, she said.

This year's Luncheon of Hope raised more than $51,000 for breast cancer equipment purchased through the Northern Cancer Foundation. To date, the event has raised more than $780,000.

“We're a small foundation, so events like this are really important to us,” Laughren said.

Learn more about the Northern Cancer Foundation on its website. The book “100 Perks of Cancer plus 100 Health Tips for Surviving It” is available on Amazon.


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Heidi Ulrichsen

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