The Cancer Bin

Word count: 818

It’s called the “Cancer Bin,” which is the nickname my son, Cooper, gave the pink Mason jar in our hall closet. The pink lid has a hole for coins, but he often places dollars in it. It’s been on a shelf next to my cookbooks since Oct. 21, 2015, when one phone call changed my life.

It’s the day the surgeon, who performed a lumpectomy on my right breast, notified me the results of pathology revealed lobular carcinoma in situ (LCIS). According to my surgeon, some in the medical profession don’t even consider LCIS a form of breast cancer because it begins in the milk-producing glands, or lobules, of the breast and remains in the lobules. However, it placed me at a 65.3 percent higher risk factor for it to develop into invasive breast cancer.

While my breast cancer was “in situ,” a Latin phrase that translates to “in position” or contained, it didn’t prevent the five-year treatment plan from wreaking havoc. In a year’s time, I underwent two major surgeries with multiple failed mammograms in between. It meant a complete upheaval of my life and those in my life.

A wooden chalkboard tag is hung from the neck of the Mason jar by raffia. I decorated the front of the tag with the date of my diagnosis and a dandelion because, at that time, it felt like one good wind could blow me away.

On the backside, though, is my warrior cry. It contains all the thoughts, beliefs and prayers I had for myself.

“Trust. Believe. Keep going. God is good even when it feels differently. Surrender to win. This won’t kill me. I matter. My life matters. I am stronger.”

Any time I open my hall closet for a light bulb, the hammer or one of my cookbooks, I am reminded of a period in my life that challenged and tested my belief in God, in good and in happily ever after.

Most breast cancer survivors have a fight song, and this was mine. I armed myself with those words until I believed that I did matter and I was stronger than any pathology report, mammogram result or the greatest battle – depression.

A year ago, at the advice of my counselor, I discussed a low-grade antidepressant with my oncologist. I’ll never forget her response.

“It’s a lot to deal with,” she said, and the shame I carried for needing help to deal with the desire to end my life lessened.

The depression didn’t immediately go away, but the combination of an antidepressant and weekly counseling helped to lift the darkness that seemed to have settled over me. I never understood how debilitating depression could be until I realized I had a plan to end everything.

Nothing can be that great as to end one’s life. But when someone is in the middle of drowning, they don’t always look for a life preserver.

A year later, I still see my counselor – every week. And I continue to take medication for depression. I also take Tamoxifen, a once-a-day chemoprevention pill to prevent the need for chemotherapy. However, Tamoxifen can have an estrogenic effect on the bladder, urethra and vagina. After seven bladder infections in the last seven months, my urologist prescribed an antibiotic that focuses solely on the urinary tract.

My journey isn’t over, so why would I stop the dual-prong approach of counseling and antidepressant medication that’s working?

According to the American Cancer Society (ACS), people with cancer can feel distress at any time after a cancer diagnosis, even many years after the cancer is treated. As the cancer situation changes, they must cope with new stressors as well as the old ones, and their feelings often change too.

I know mine have. I no longer feel hopeless. While going through a wide range of emotions is a normal part of the process, the ACS does stress that some things should not be ignored. The first sign that someone needs to get help right away is if they have thoughts or plans of suicide.

I never thought hurting myself would ever be something I’d contemplate. But I did. Talking with my cancer care team and combining medication with counseling has helped tremendously. It’s saved my life.

What’s also helped is seeing signs of my emotional growth. The cancer bin is a beautiful reminder that cancer brought major changes to my life – physical, emotional and spiritual. I am encouraged by the cancer bin. My 11-year-old son loves the cancer bin. It’s our fun money. And I think Coop knows that his mom is no longer the woman who had to write, “I matter. My life matters” as if to convince myself to keep going. Today, I know these to be true. I value myself and my life.

We all matter. If you suspect you may be depressed, please make time to get the help and support you need.



  • Mary Billiter

    Mary Billiter

    Mary Billiter is an Arts Education Specialist for the Wyoming Arts Council, college writing instructor, and domestic fiction author. Mary writes with clarity and raw emotion to explore difficult subjects and issues close to her heart. Her upcoming release, "A Divided Mind," offers a compelling look into how far a mother will go to protect her child and how far a divided mind will go to protect itself. Mary resides in the Cowboy State with her sexy bald husband, their blended family of six amazing kids, and their runaway dog. She does her best writing (in her head) on her daily walks in wild, romantic, beautiful Wyoming. Read more about Mary and her work at: Follow Mary on Twitter: @MaryBilliter