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Reflections from Beth Gardner, a 20-year Breast Cancer Survivor

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Diagnosed with breast cancer 20 years ago, Beth Gardner fought the good fight during the treatment with magnificent mental strength and self-possession. As a stage three breast cancer survivor, she published her journal, One Rowing Stroke at a Time, to share her stories to inspire and encourage cancer patients during the pandemic. 

When Gardner first learned she was diagnosed with breast cancer at the age of 30, she was driving through North Philadelphia and was utterly shocked. 

“I had been training at that point of the time for the Philadelphia Marathon. Also, I had just retired a year ago from rowing. So with all that being said, I was in really good health.”

Gardner was astonished by the needle biopsy’s result because as an athlete, she had lived a healthy lifestyle. Nevertheless, she went to multiple hospitals with incredible resilience for multiple breast cancer tests and treatment plans.

Gardner mentioned in her book that she had been the CEO, CDO, and CFO of her journey. Her brother, born with cerebral palsy, scoliosis, and a collapsed left lung, needed special care from her parents; hence Gardner thought that it would be in her parents’ best interest to take care of her brother in the first place to let herself manage all the treatments. 

“It was not as difficult for me as for being other people to take on that role. It was more of second nature for, again, having parents bred me to be self-reliant early in life. With a special-need child in that household, you will find out that the other siblings grow up very quickly.”

From an early age, Gardner learned to be self-sufficient in every aspect of her life. For instance, thanks to her experience, she was able to self-fund her college education and rowing career to learn to manage the financial aspect of her life.

It was not hard for Garnder to adapt to her “new” life. She went to treatment on weekends to work full time on weekdays and arranged her doctor appointments as needed. However, Gardner admitted there were times scaring her during the treatment. As she recalled a terrifying incident, there was one time that the nurse forgot to inject Benadryl, the medication to prevent side effects and allergic reactions. As a result, her trachea started closing up within 5 minutes after the chemotherapy began. She was suffocating. Fortunately, the nurse found the accident soon enough to save her life. 

The experience alerted her that she needed to know her treatment procedures well enough, even with professional assistance and care. 

“It made me more aware of how cautious I needed to be of even the nurses that worked on me. Whether it was within the hospital or receiving home treatment, I really needed to take more of an active role with every medical step that was taken.”

Gardner had received sufficient physical support from her doctors. However, being used to taking care of her needs, She did not ask for professional help to deal with stress, which became one of the reasons she decided to publish the book. She was inclined to encourage readers to look for therapists and psychiatrists to mitigate the stress that they carried. 

To back up her mental strength and to deal with the “game of reoccurrence,” Gardner did research and read about biology, metaphysics, and psychology, helping her figure out how she was attracted to a non-genetic disease. 

“People assume that once you are done with the cancer treatment, you are almost tumor-free. But all you are doing at that point is losing the security blanket of having that cancer treatment by whatever tumors or cancer cells are left.”

To cope with the fear of recurrence, Gardner motivates patients to do metaphysical research and search for help from therapists and psychiatrists to maintain a healthy and stable mindset. 

Even though she was self-reliant in her mental support, she said, “The more you talk about the fear, in a safe environment with the professionals, that helps you to get the weight out of the chest and release the negative energy that you are carrying.”

Gardner also advocated for listening to your body and having good rest. Rest relieves the mind from unnecessary burdens, facilitating the body’s recovery. Therefore, She firmly believes that although the mind could cause diseases, it could also heal the body.  

Since she is concerned about the recurrence, Garnder still actively does regular checks, mammograms, and MRIs for her breast health regimen. In addition, she gets bone and whole-body scans regularly. 

“You do actively need to be in the driver’s seat of your health. Find a friend or family member you can trust to go with you to these appointments if it’s too much,” which is one of the most important things she learned from her whole journey.

After the treatment, Gardner has become more cautious about everything she does daily, such as what to eat, how to live her life, and other trivial things. In addition, she is now more intuitively aware of the energy around her to ensure that she lives a healthy life. 

At last, Garnder underscored the importance of having rest and told me if there would be people pushing me too hard in academia, send her to them.


Wenxuan Li


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