By Cheryl Norman
I'm a breast cancer survivor because I'm a breast cancer treatment survivor.
Unfortunately, there are women who allow fear and horror stories to delay their treatment, but I refused to worry. My strategy was to get on with treatment and get back my health. I promised to do whatever I needed to.
After a swift and easy recovery from a partial mastectomy, I smiled with relief when I was told the lymph nodes were clean. I was stage 1, usually treatable with radiation only. However, because the pathology report showed aggressive cancer cells, the oncologist strongly recommended both chemotherapy and radiation.
She assured me that today's chemo treatments are configured for each individual patient. The dosage includes steroids and anti-nausea medication. I started chemotherapy right away. While I had a few queasy spells, I never got sick. In fact, I took the side effects in stride, thanks to my writing and my sense of humor.
I read about the ComedyCures Foundation and often visited its website, where I found daily jokes from various comedians. The founder, a stage 4 cancer survivor named Saranne Rothberg, used laughter to get through her treatment. My husband and I agreed to adapt her attitude.
We vowed to avoid all depressing movies and television programs (including the nightly news). No negative input allowed. We watched only feel-good dramas and comedies. (Yes, even silly comedies.) My wonderful and supportive husband bought a collection of old Abbott and Costello movies for us to watch at night. I laughed my way through chemo. Truly!
I also blogged about the humorous side of cancer treatment in a series called "Laughter is the Best Medicine," starting with the advantages of having no hair (I saved money on hair products, I didn't have to touch up my gray roots and I didn't have to shave my legs). I told friends and family I was laughing all the way through my treatment.
No depressing subjects in e-mails or phone calls allowed. They complied, sending me daily jokes and cartoons instead. One friend sent me a cute countdown card after each chemo treatment. Another author friend shipped me a box of romance books to read with a note saying, "in case you get tired of Abbott and Costello..."
After my first chemo treatment wiped out my white blood cells and weakened my immune system, I had a long list of "don'ts" (don't go around crowds, don't eat at buffets, don't handle unwashed produce, don't shop without using sanitizing wipes on the shopping carts). I refused to feel sorry for myself.
Actually, that isolation had a funny side, too. It gave me a built-in excuse to watch hours and hours of cooking shows in blessed solitude. While I lay on the sofa, I decided to focus on what I could do about my weak immune system (and anemia, which soon followed), such as write a cookbook with recipes designed for patients like me.
When I had the energy, I experimented in the kitchen. When I felt up to sitting at the computer, I wrote recipes. The project grew and I had a mission. I wanted to share what I learned with others who struggled with the side effects of treatment and surgery.
When I told the oncology nurses about my cookbook, they greeted the news with much enthusiasm. They encouraged me and gave me nutrition materials to add to my research. I promised them I'd keep the price of the book as affordable as I could, and they were eager to recommend it to patients. "Recipes for Recovery" seemed appropriate for the title because writing the book was a vital part of my recovery.
Soon, I celebrated my last dose of my chemo and readied myself for radiation. As with chemotherapy, there are horror stories about radiation, such as burns and organ damage. But as my radiation oncologist explained, radiation is not the scattergun approach of the past.
Today's radiation treatments are low doses, administered over several weeks with precision and accuracy. I had areas of my skin that tanned but never burned. I suffered a bit of fatigue, but that gave me more fodder for my cookbook. I stuck to writing super easy recipes that took very little energy to prepare. I cooked favorite dishes, but with shortcuts.
By the time I finished all treatment, I had nearly 90 recipes plus some words of guidance. The project expanded to include heart patients or anyone with anemia or a weak immune system. To expedite the publication of "Recipes for Recovery" and to minimize costs, I decided to self-publish and market my book.
It's been a year since I completed chemotherapy and almost a year since my last radiation treatment. I have hair again. It's common for chemo patients' hair to grow back with a difference in texture and fullness. Mine is darker, and it's the first time in my life I have curls without a perm. Now that's funny.
My energy returned again, too, and I feel healthy. Breast cancer treatment seems like a distant memory. Sure, I'm glad it's over, but it wasn't the dreadful experience it might have been. I took it one day at a time and kept my sense of humor. Daily jokes and cartoons kept me smiling.
Daily prayer reminded me I wasn't alone in my battle. Giving thanks for my blessings each day kept me focused on all the good in my life. My last mammogram and sonogram show no signs of the cancer. I am blessed.
My final word to you is this: If you're one in eight women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer, don't despair and don't hesitate to start treatment. In fact, embrace it with a grin. Therapeutic humor is an important part of the recipe for recovery.
Cheryl Norman is the author of seven romantic suspense novels, including her latest, "Rebuild My World." She has also written numerous short stories and articles and blogs about healthy cooking at hastytastymeals.com. For more about Cheryl, visit her at cherylnorman.com, or on Red Room, where you can read her blog. "Recipe for Recovery" is available now through various online outlets for $7.99 in print and I have a digital version in the works.
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