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How I Rebooted My Life after Cancer

by Francine Brokaw

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When I was diagnosed with breast cancer at age 38, it was a complete shock. I was the first woman in my family to have breast cancer. I was a writer and had been a tennis instructor years before, and I still enjoyed playing whenever I could. But what I did for a living didn’t matter at that moment; all I wanted to do was get the cancer out of my body and get on with my life.

My doctor looked at the results of my lumpectomy and recommended a bilateral mastectomy, which, after careful consideration and research, I agreed to.

Part of the process involved removing many of the lymph nodes from under my arm. Unfortunately, several months after my surgery, I developed lymphedema. The lymphatic system is what moves fluids throughout the body, and removing my lymph nodes caused a sort of traffic jam of fluids in my arm. I now live with pain, swelling, discomfort, and physical limitations caused by the lymphedema.

Cancer placed limitations on what I could do, but that didn’t stop me from forging a new path for my life.

However, instead of giving up and giving in, I rebooted my life. I couldn’t play tennis anymore, but I wasn’t going to let it bring me down. Instead, I focused on positive things, like writing and painting. That’s when I began to reinvent myself, and it led to a new career as an entertainment writer.

I had been writing nearly all of my life, but I never considered entertainment writing as a career option. Then one day, an idea came to me. I love entertainment, and like most people, I use music, TV, and movies as a way to escape from the stressors of life. Plus, I love to write. Marrying two of my passions – entertainment and writing – was something I had never thought to do, but it seemed like the perfect combination.

Entertainment journalism was never on my radar – never in my wildest dreams! But I dove head on into this new endeavor and carved out a successful career. I even wrote a book about the business of entertainment journalism.

When I speak with cancer survivors today, I try to stay positive and tell them that a cancer diagnosis is not a death sentence. It can actually open the door for new adventures in your life. Take me, for example. Cancer placed limitations on what I could do, but that didn’t stop me from forging a new path for my life. Let yourself be open to new things. Try things that you have never thought of doing before. Enjoy them. And enjoy yourself.

♦ ♦ ♦ ♦ ♦

Francine Brokaw is a breast cancer survivor and has been a professional writer for more than 25 years, focusing on entertainment, politics, and travel. Her work has appeared in national and international publications, and on multiple websites. She wrote Beyond the Red Carpet: The World of Entertainment Journalism about her experiences as an entertainment journalist. Learn more about Francine at

This article was published in Coping® with Cancer magazine, January/February 2013.