DAVIS: Finding (and keeping) clarity through cancer

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Andrea Davis Almost eight months ago, I used this space to share the new perspective on life I discovered as a side effect of my battle with cancer. A lot has happened since then, and I’m still marveling at the difference—even as I struggle to hold onto it.

For those of you just tuning in, I was diagnosed with Stage III breast cancer in July and was struck by how my priorities changed in the instant it took for me to read the sympathy on the doctor’s face when she delivered the news.

A flurry of activity followed: a bevy of tests to make sure the cancer hadn’t spread, surgery to remove the tumor and lymph nodes, physical therapy to prevent lymphedema, 16 cycles of chemotherapy, 33 blasts of radiation.

Through it all—the pain and nausea and burns and fatigue—it was clear my life had changed. I wasn’t a carefree 30-something who worked too much and played too hard and put too many important things off to worry about later.

I was a cancer patient, and there might not be a later.

That was easy to remember as I got used to the plastic port implanted in my chest, placed there to spare my arms from the caustic chemicals the doctors hoped would kill the cancer without killing me.

It was easy to remember when my hair fell out (yes, everywhere) and complete strangers asked me about my treatment and prognosis—while sneaking a peek to see if they could figure out the lumpectomy-or-mastectomy question themselves.

It was easy to remember during the daily trips to radiation and the even more frequent trips to the rest room to spray green tea on my increasingly sore skin.

It was hard to forget when a full day of work or 30 minutes of exercise sent me straight to bed to recover.

But scars fade. Hair grows back. Life goes on.

I’ll be taking medication for five years in hopes of keeping the cancer at bay, but the all-consuming part of my fight is over. I just hope my new outlook doesn’t go the way of anti-nausea pills and bad-ass bandanas.

Someone asked me the other day how my life has changed since my diagnosis. The inquiry gave me pause.

I wish I could say I went through a more obvious, tangible transformation—that I woke up one morning a new-and-improved version of myself. Notsomuch. I still work too hard, get angry too easily, and spend too much time on the couch.

Mine has been a more subtle change—one I don’t want to lose once the port comes out, the radiation burns fade and I stop showing my boobs to strangers.

New York Times columnist Dan Barry, who survived cancer of the esophagus twice, likened the phenomenon to a reverse version of chemo brain—the mental fogginess that often accompanies chemotherapy infusions. During his chemotherapy regimen, Barry wrote in September, he was able to focus his mind on the everyday wonder we too often overlook amid the hustle and bustle. But when his treatments ended, so did the clarity.

I don’t want that to happen to me.

I’ve heard other cancer survivors say that eventually they got to a point where they didn’t think about the disease every day, and some even claim to be eager to forget what they’ve been through. Not me.

No, I want to take my fight into my real life, to use the energy I’ve been spending gearing up for and recovering from treatments to being a more loving wife, a more attentive daughter (and sister and aunt), and a better friend—to myself as well as the legions of supporters who have helped me get this far.

Someday, I want to wake up to a new-and-improved me. But I know that takes time and effort. And just a little bit of luck. I hope I’ve got enough of all three.•


Davis is assistant managing editor/online. To comment on this column, e-mail adavis@ibj.com.


  • you will win the fight..
    Hi Andrea I don't know if you rember me but I was a good friend to I believe it would be your grandma.. My name is Andrea I lived in PLS by your grandma, she was and is one person in my life I loved with all my heart.
    I just wanted you to know.. My mother went thu all this. Today she is 76 and can out do me any time...she is a great person like Angela.. good luck you are in my prayers...Andrea
  • You are Amazing
    Andrea, you are truly remarkable and an inspiration to anyone who reads your story. Your strength and positive attitude calls all of us to become the best version of ourselves in spite of our weaknesses. Blessings for continued recovery and good health.
  • Well wishes
    I had no idea you were dealing with this. I wish you well in future - what a great attitude. You are fortunate that you are such a talented writer and can use this to inspire others in similar situations!
  • Feel Better
    What a brave woman you are for letting people know your story and give everybody a lesson, keep a good spirit and my best to you.
  • Wishing you...
    ...the best. Your story is well told and, unfortunately, an all too familiar one. Our very best wishes for good health. (I am your Aunt Carole as I am Patricio's exchange student sister!)
  • I love your outlook.
    Andrea -- This commentary is wonderfully written and inspiring in a non-preachey manner. Thanks for sharing your story and reminding me of what really matters in life.

    I hope you never lose sight of the clarity realized during treatment. Your perspective is empowering.

    All the best to you and your tremendous family of supporters.

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  1. A couple of issues need some clarification especially since my name was on the list. I am not sure how this information was obtained and from where. For me, the amount was incorrect to begin with and the money does not come to me personally. I am guessing that the names listed are the Principal Investigators (individual responsible for the conduct of the trail) for the different pharmaceutical trials and not the entity which receives the checks. In my case, I participate in Phase II and Phase III trials which are required for new drug development. Your article should differentiate the amount of money received for consulting, for speaking fees, and for conduct of a clinical trial for new drug development. The lumping of all of these categories may give the reader a false impression of physicians just trying to get rich. The Sunshine Law may help to differentiate these categories in the future. The public should be aware that the Clinical Trial Industry could be a real economic driver for Indiana since these revenues supports jobs and new job creation. Nationally, this account for 10-20 billion which our State is missing out on to a large degree. Yes, new drug and technology development has gotten most of the attention (e.g. CTSI, BioCrossroads, etc.) However, serious money is being left on the table by not participating in the clinical trials to get those new drugs and medical devices on the market!!!! I guess that this is not sexy enough for academia.

  2. The address given for the Goldfish Swim Club is the Ace Hardware, is it closing?

  3. Out of state management and ownership. If Kite controlled it, everything would be leased. Of course, due to the roundabout, there is limited access to the south side of 116th now also. Just have to go down to the light.

  4. Hey smudge, You're opposed to arresting people for minor crimes? Sounds great! We should only focus on murders and such, right? Let's stand around and wait until someone shoots someone before we act. Whatever we do, we should never question anyone, frisk anyone, or arrest anyone unless they are actively engaged in shooting or stabbing. Very sound!

  5. You guys are being really rude to gays in the comments. (Not all of you, I presume). You need to stop it. Gays have just as much of a right to marry as straight people do. It's not fair how you guys are denying them equal rights. They're acting more human than you'll ever be. We obviously haven't matured since the bible was last updated. Hate the sin, not the sinner. You've all committed a sin at least once in your life. You've lied, you've stolen, etc. (Those are just possibilities). We should have a planet for people that support gay rights and a planet for people that don't. Then, gay people could get married without you bigots interfering with their love life. How would you feel if straights couldn't get married? How would you feel if teenagers were afraid to come out to their parents as straight? If straight people got hate everywhere they went? If straight people were afraid to go out in public, because they feared being judged? It's never going to happen at the rate society is going. You haven't seen the side of me where I act obscene. You're glad my inner demon hasn't been released. I would, but oh no, my comment would be removed because of my very strong emotions about this subject. I love gays, and love how they show their affection for each other. I just ADORE how a state is going to give same-sex couples a marriage license, then changes their mind. (I was obviously being sarcastic there). I just LOVE how society thinks gays are an abomination to our society. You're caring about marriage between two men or two women. That's a small thing. Just grow up, and let them marry. Let them live their lives. You can't make them change their sexuality. You can't make them change their lifestyle. In my opinion, gays are more than welcome to marry. Please, grow up and realize that people should be allowed to marry, even if it's same-sex marriage. You guys are saying that "the bible said gay marriage is wrong." Well, guess what else is wrong? Read Matthew:7 and you'll find out. (I am in no way breaking that. I am saying a fact). I'm stating that gays have just as much of a right to marry as straights do. (: