The 10 Commandments of Breast Cancer

1. Thou shalt give thyself time to think. When you’re diagnosed, you may feel like you have to do something right now. You don’t. Take a deep breath. Give the spinning in your head time to slow down before you make any decisions.

2. Thou shalt not judge thy neighbor’s treatment or reconstruction choices or attitude toward their diagnosis. I honestly have not seen people in the breast cancer community judge each other’s treatment or reconstruction choices, either online or offline. The real armchair quarterbacks are the people who have never been through it.  They need to be mindful of who’s actually on the playing field. Attitude gets a little trickier. No one has the right to tell you how you should feel. Some people would have you think you should be able to overcome your fluffy pink cancer by being all shiny and happy, or that you should be grateful for some life lesson. That’s a BIG fail. But you may be the naturally optimistic type. You may actually be grateful. And we all need to remember that’s okay too. We’re all wired differently. I always say that telling you how you should feel about your diagnosis is kind of like saying you should be six feet tall or have brown eyes.

3. Thou shalt honor thy own feelings, whether shiny and happy or tired or angry or scared. And don’t be surprised to feel all these things within the space of 15 minutes, several times a day.

4. Thou shalt love thyself as thy neighbor. Women are so darn hard on ourselves. Give yourself the same break you would to a loved one going through a big diagnosis.

5. Thou shalt not beat thyself up. You don’t have breast cancer because you ate the wrong things or didn’t breast-feed your kids or exercise enough or the right way. You have breast cancer, because.

6. Thou shalt allow others to help you. This is a tough one for many of us. But your family and friends want to be able to do something for you; let them.

7. Thou shalt not bear false witness against science. You may or may not decide on a certain course of treatment. (See Commandment 2.) You may or may not have a good experience. We can learn so much from each other’s honest recounting of our experiences, but that doesn’t make us medical experts. Celebrities and politicians have a special responsibility here.

8. Thou shalt ask thy doctors questions. Do not be afraid to ask, “What is the risk if I do A or B?” or “What does that word mean?” or “Could you repeat that?” Good doctors welcome your questions and concerns. Not-so-good ones need to be reminded there’s a person attached to the breast.

9. Thou shalt seize the day. There’s no doubt cancer is the elephant in the room. But sometimes you just have to pat its big ugly flank and say, “Excuse me, elephant, but I’m going to the beach, or the movies, or the back yard with my kids. I’ll catch you when I get back. Right now, I’m off to have some fun.”

10. Thou shalt remember you are more than your cancer. Cancer is all about cells run amok in your body. It will do its best to claim your identity as well. You may be a woman with cancer, but you are also a wife, mom, sister, daughter, employed person and friend. Let the extent to which cancer becomes part of your identity be your choice, not its choice.

-Jackie Fox

©Jackie Fox 2011

P.S. Since so many of you have recommended printing and sharing with your family, friends, and doctors, I created a PDF to make it easier to print and share. Thanks to all of you who have shared this and commented. The 10 Commandments of Breast Cancer


67 thoughts on “The 10 Commandments of Breast Cancer

  1. Jackie,
    This is one of the best posts! You’ve succinctly captured what all of need to remember. My best friend, since we were 15, is waiting as I write this to hear back about her Monday breast biopsy. Does she have breast cancer or doesn’t she? We know that waiting is so difficult. I’m just hoping I never have to share this post with her.


  2. I agree with Nancy; it should be passed out to women after they are diagnosed, along with a certificate for course in statistics and risk. 🙂 . . . Seriously, it is a wonderful!

  3. I just completed a 33 course of radiation this morning. I have felt all the the things you talked about in the 10 commandments. I am printing it to remind myself that it’s not my fault and I will learn how to get through it with great advice like this. Thank you so very much. I have had many crying breakdowns because I never really know how to feel. This definitely helps!

    Thank you again

    Shan Landauer

    • Shan, I’m so glad it helps and thank you so much for your comment. Don’t be surprised if you feel a bit let down when treatment ends, no matter how much you looked forward to it being over with. It’s pretty common. Best of luck to you with your treatment and recovery!

  4. This made me cry. This month is my 3 yr. anniversary of my breast cancer diagnosis.I wish I had this to read and follow back then when my head was spinning .Thank you for such insight.

  5. Jackie – this is an excellent post and should be required reading for all patients newly diagnosed with breast cancer, their friends, family and caregivers, and all members of the healthcare team. I want to stress the importance of #8 – ask questions! Make sure you understand what your doctor is recommending, and why. You deserve nothing less than to have your treatment options explained to you in a way that you understand and feel comfortable with. Don’t be shy – this is your health, and your life.

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  8. Wow Jackie, This is moving for me. Every commandment you list I had to learn on my own throughout my journey. It certainly would have been nice if someone would have given me something like this in the beginning to expediate the process. I will certainly be sharing.

  9. I think this is brilliant Jacks and I think I need to pay some attention to the commandments right now. There’s some very sage thoughts here. Also we have almost the exact same garden fountain, and mine is right outside my bedroom window so I can listen to it. One of the most calming sounds I think. 😉

  10. Jackie, I was led to this posting through Marie E’s site. I love these Commandments. I just may link to it on my breast cancer page. They speak to EVERY ONE of us! I especially like “Thou shalt not judge others for their treatment or reconstruction choices or attitude” You say you’ve never known anyone with cancer to do so. Honestly, I’ve met many, many who do. Mainly those who chose alternative vs traditional healing paths or vice versa. Sometimes conversations on these things are like showdowns between the Tea Party and Liberals. LOL! Very good job on the Commandments.

    If you get a chance, will you visit my site http://www.1UpOnCancer? All upbeat – I only do the POSITIVE – not that there isn’t not so positive that’s valid to consider. Just wanted a happy place for survivors to go.


    • Thanks for your comments, Rachel. I’ve been lucky, I’ve met women with more advanced cancers and none of them have made me feel like I had “cancer light.” I’ve heard from many women who had friends and family members ask them what the big deal is, it’s “only” DCIS. It’s like I told my oncologist, maybe it’s not real cancer but then someone sign me up for the fake mastectomy! I will check out your blog, thanks for sharing the link.

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  12. I just found your blog. As a fellow cancer survivor, my thoughts and prayers are with you.
    Also…Great Blog! You are a credit to the cancer blogging community. I have added you to my blogroll, “Cancer Blogs Lists” with over 1400 other personal cancer blogs at, a cancer networking site featuring a cancer book club, guest blogs, cancer resources, reviews and more.
    If you have not visited before or recently, please stop by. If you agree that the site is a worthwhile resource for those affected by cancer, please consider adding Being Cancer Network to your own blogroll.
    Now that you are listed, you can expect to gain a wider audience for your thoughts and experiences. Being Cancer Network is a place to share and communicate.

    Take care, Dennis (

  13. I am a breast cancer survivor and I work at the oncology clinic I am a patient of. I am printing this and giving it to my patients, it’s perfect!! I just told a patient she is entiled to cry, get mad and what ever other emotion comes flying through. the best advise I was given was go buy some cheap plates at Goodwill and throw them down and break every single one of them while getting out my anger, then glue the pieces into a design and make a mosaic. I pass that on daily! thanks for this!

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  15. While reading your ’10 Commandments’ in the October 2012 issue of Reader’s Digest, I was able to cry for the first time since the day I received my diagnosis.
    I was diagnosed with breast cancer in early February 2012, after finding a large mass in my left breast around Christmas. Mammogram, ultrasound, biopsy, followed by a CT scan, lumpectomy and removal of 9 lymph nodes. For whatever unexplainable miracle, all labs indicated the cancer had not spread into my lymphatic system. Subsequent genomic assays performed on my tumor tissue indicated a low risk of recurrence with radiation and without chemotherapy. I’ve since completed my radiation treatments, received an “all clear” on my 6-month mammogram and ultrasound, received massage therapy and self-massage training for mild lymphedema and will have a quarterly blood draw next week to test for cancer markers and hormone levels (I take a hormone blocker).
    I know all this information may seem like too much, but, for those that have gone through this, it is an emotional, mental and physical roller coaster for the patient and it affects the family, also. The support I have received from my family, friends, coworkers, and medical team has been phenomenal and without it, I do not believe I would have been able to deal with it as well as I think I have.
    I know that my circle of support tries to understand, but your article put into words what I’ve been feeling for several months and have been unable to articulate. So much physical effort and time is spent to eradicate from the body what I call the ugly alien. Seemingly endless tests, exams, doctor appointments. Radiation treatments every day, 5 days a week for several weeks. Then, suddenly, it seems everything stops and you’re no longer “doing”. You’re recovering, healing, resting, getting back to your new normal life and all those things you’ve been too busy to let your mind concentrate on start surfacing and you wonder if you’re depressed or going crazy, all the time your logical brain is telling you that it’s normal and to be expected and is actually post-traumatic stress.
    Thank you, thank you, thank you.

    • Thank you so much for your kind comments and please don’t think you were sharing too much, you were not. I’m glad you have such good support and I’m also glad my post was helpful. Thanks for alerting me that it did make it to Reader’s Digest too, I wasn’t sure when it was coming out!

  16. I can’t wait until my husband reads this maybe he can understand alittle more , he has been so supportive but he doesn’t understand my mood swings or tears . Thank You so much & GOD BLESS

  17. Thank you so much for the 10 commandments…I found out 2 days ago that I have DCIS and a ‘highly suspicious’ papilloma in a different area of the same breast. I am printing out the commandments and posting them on the fridge. I also ordered your book today. I’m so glad I found your blog!!
    As an aside – my sister is going to knit me a boob. I requested cashmere of course because I’m worth it ; )

    • Thanks so much for your comments and for buying my book. I’m glad you found the 10 commandments helpful. Last but not least thanks for sharing the story of your cashmere boob! Priceless!

      Sent from my iPhone

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