“You Are Not Defined By Your Cancer.”

9 12 2011

My Birthday gifts from Don and Theo. Photo by Amy Rauch Neilson.

I thought I had it all figured out. I’d seen a beautiful breast cancer bracelet made by The Brighton Company at Leo’s Jewelry in downtown Wayne in mid-October. The Brighton Company designs a different bracelet each year for October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The company manufactures a certain number, distributes them to various jewelry stores, and then when they’re gone, they’re gone.

I had stopped in on an October afternoon to pick one up for my niece, a carrier of the BRCA 1 gene, who had just courageously undergone a double-mastectomy at the age of 27. As the salesperson was placing my purchase into a bag, she told me that her store only had four more left.
Only four more left! I thought to myself. “Do you think you could put one on hold for my husband?” I asked. “My birthday is coming up in a few weeks. Maybe I’ll suggest to him that I’d really like one of these bracelets.” She agreed to put one on hold for a few days.
The next day, we drove past the jewelry store and I said to Don, “You know…they have this beautiful breast cancer bracelet there, made by Brighton jewelry, that I’d love to have. I might have put one on hold with your name on it.”
He rolled his eyes, ever aware of my compulsion to micro-manage, and said, “We’ll see.” And that was the last we spoke of it. Until.
Until my birthday. It fell on a Tuesday this year, and it’s tradition in our family that we take the day off and celebrate with each other. I took Theo to school and when I got back, my birthday presents from Don were on the kitchen island.
One was the new Stephen King book I’d been wanting. The other was a pretty little black gift bag with Leo’s Jewelry on it. Don saw me staring at it and said, “It’s not what you think it is.”
I gave him a curious look and began to open it. Indeed, it was not what I expected. It was so much better!
Inside was a silver pendant made to look like an open book. Beautiful. Even more beautiful were the words Don spoke as I was gazing at it. “I didn’t get you the bracelet because you are so much more than the cancer you’re fighting,” he said. “And I refuse to allow you to be defined by your cancer.
“I know it’s a part of your life, of our lives. But it does not define you. You are a writer, a reader, a wife, a mother, a friend, a sister. You are so much more than your cancer. That’s why I didn’t buy the bracelet.”
I looked at the new pendant, listened to Don’s words, and any desire I’d had for that bracelet melted away.
Later that afternoon, we picked Theo up from school and took him to see An Arthur Christmas in 3D. Then we picked up chicken from Boston Market and stopped by Grandma’s. When we got home, Theo had me open his card and present for me. His gift was also in a Leo’s Jewelry bag, but it wasn’t the bracelet. It was a new charm for my Pandora bracelet. The cutest little sterling silver frog you’ve ever seen.
“Do you like it, Mommy?’ Theo asked.
“Yes, I sure do, honey. I love it!”
“Great. Can I have it back now?”
We’re still working on the concept that giving a gift to someone means they get to keep it…
Copyright 2011, Amy Rauch Neilson



17 responses

9 12 2011
Kristi Rugh Kahl

You have a very smart husband and son! Love Don’s words and that Theo wanted to keep yet another frog 🙂 Sounds like that was a Happy Square day for sure!

9 12 2011
Jennifer L. W. Fink

What a smart, loving, compassionate husband! As beautiful as the gift is, I’m sure his words to you were the most beautiful gift you received that day.

The whole “refusing to be defined by cancer” part — that’s why I don’t like the term “previvor,” which FORCE and others use to refer to carriers of genetic cancer mutations. The focus is supposed to be on the “viv” part — living — but to me, the “pre” is almost presupposing that I *will* get cancer. And while I’m well aware that my risk is greater than the average population, I refuse to let concerns about cancer dominate this part of my life either.

9 12 2011
Helene Rabinowitz

How wise is that man of yours…..very, very wise. And Theo…a “jewel” of a story. Those moments to remember; so glad you wrote them down so we could all share with you. Love you all

9 12 2011
Jennifer Wolf

This might very well be my most favoritest post EVER!!!! Don’t correct my grammar, Writer-Girl. I meant it that way! 🙂 xoxox

9 12 2011
Cathy Fox

Boy Amy, sometimes Don says the wisest things – hope you have a happy happy day!

9 12 2011
Carol Phillips

Don spoke words of wisdom. I’m trying to teach my son the same lesson. He is so right. Kudos to Don and Theo, and love and hugs to you Amy!

9 12 2011
Sharon Frisch

Amy, your husband is right; you are so much more than your cancer! I’m glad you had such a wonderful birthday 🙂

9 12 2011
Deb Peters

What great words from Don. I am glad that you had such a wonderful birthday.

9 12 2011
Debbie Loumakis

Oh yes, this is my favorite post ever! Love, support, inspiration. You gave and you receive back in abundance!

9 12 2011
Dorothy M

Made me tear up to hear those loving words – you deserve everyone of them!! Isn’t it funny how we can define ourselves yet those we love and who love us can see us in such a different/better/loving/more insightful way!!

9 12 2011
Paul Vachon

A truly heartwarming story, Amy. A belated happy birthday, joyous holidays AND a healthy 2012!


9 12 2011


ox Kelly

9 12 2011

And so true not defined by cancer….you are a true friend whom i miss!

9 12 2011
Ken and Gay

What more is there to say!!! You are blessed by LOVE and wisdom! As we know both of these virtues are longed for and chased after by many human beings all of their lives and they are never able to acquire either one! You are in the right place at exactly the right time, just where God wants you to be! Pastor James said last Sunday that an old much used phrase should be reconsidered and taken to heart “Bloom where you are planted”. That is just what you are doing!!! Much Love, Gay and Ken XXX000

9 12 2011

Wonderful wise husband who truly knows you, appreciates you and loves you! And precious little son also! What a birthday gift……..I was teary eyed… in a good way! That was a fantastic birthday 🙂

9 12 2011

Don is amazing, as is Theo and yourself. That was so thoughtful of him and so true. Sometimes we get so consumed by what we are dealing with, we forget who we really are. You are Amy, an amazing woman, wife, mother, author, sister, friend and teacher, and oh yeah, a survivor. Happy Birthday Amy!

9 12 2011
kerri daugherty

Such lovely gifts for a lovely lady. Hope your doing good. The frog pendant from theo, very nice. Can’t wait to see you.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: