The 10 Commandments of Breast Cancer

(Editor’s note: This originally ran in September 2011. I planned to “recycle” it later but I did it now since it showed up on someone else’s blog without citing me. Updated: The other blogger added me as the author after I told her it was me. At no time did she try to claim credit for my work. Some of the comments below were before it was resolved.)

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


18 thoughts on “The 10 Commandments of Breast Cancer

  1. Jackie,
    There seems to be a lot of copying of blogs without credit, lately, and I find it difficult to believe the person couldn’t find out who published it in the first place. On the other hand, I suppose you should be flattered, because these 10 Commandments of breast cancer are so right on target. Such wise advice.


    • Thank you, Brenda! You’re right, it’s flattering in a way–yet we all want (and deserve) credit for our own work. UPDATED RESPONSE: I did hear from her and she did fix the post. Yay!

  2. I remember these commandments – it’s a great list, and I can imagine she must have been touched by how ‘on’ these points are. Hopefully she gets in touch and says hello. Maybe she’s just learning how this whole internet things works? I guess you’ll see.


    • Hi Catherine,
      Yes, we have been in touch; she corrected her post and started following me on Twitter, and I told her about the #bcsm tweetchat and told her she should check it out.

  3. Jackie,
    It really angers me that someone would lift another’s words without crediting the source. This happened to Nancy Stordahl, and now it’s happened to you! That’s just not right. I guess anyone in the public arena has that possibility of it happening to them.

    Loved this post about the ten commandments of breast cancer. I love this statement: “You have breast cancer, because.” We are hard on ourselves, aren’t we? It is not fair that we should think we caused our breast cancer.

    Great post, Jackie!

    • Hi Beth,
      Thanks, Beth. It actually all worked out. She said in her post that she didn’t know who the author was and when I contacted her she changed that. I had only heard recently about Nancy having someone swipe one of her posts and I know it has happened to others. I’m glad you like the post.

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    • Thanks for your comments Cara. I have to tell you I would not be at all happy if someone plagiarized my work. It’s so hard to come up with something decent that when I do, I want credit for it!

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  6. I hope it’s okay with you if I copy this into my blog post for 10/1. I will give you full credit and a link back to this site. It’s just so good that I think it should be shared.

  7. I have been through all this so I can relate to the Ten Commandments.God has given us the capacity to keep going despite all the problems.Its better to overcome the loss of a part of body and be thankful to God to spare our life.We can help others and lead a better life.

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  9. You know, Jackie, I was thinking as I was reading your commandments, that if you merely changed out the word “cancer” for “heart disease” (or any number of catastrophic health crises), your words would still apply! For example, as in #3: “Thou shalt honor thy own feelings, whether shiny and happy or tired or angry or scared.” That is so brilliant and so true. Thanks so much for these wise words to live by, no matter what your diagnosis.

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