Making Peace with Cancer

We don’t always get to choose how our lives play out.

Illustration by Harry Campbell

Catastrophic illnesses like cancer terrify us. You could argue, given their frequency, they should—although I have never found anxiety or worry to be particularly helpful in solving anything.

Every year, 250,000 women in the US learn they have breast cancer, and 1 in 9 women will be diagnosed in her lifetime. Each year, a staggering 12.7 million people worldwide receive a cancer diagnosis. Everyone will be affected by cancer at some point, either themselves or through caring for a loved one. So it wasn’t really a shock when the yellow crusting on my nipple turned out to be a malignancy that had taken up residency in my breast.

Even so, initially I was devastated. My life was about being up north in the woods, picking growing things out of the garden. It was about teaching and traveling to the ocean, about exploring faraway countries with my husband and family, about learning and giving to others. My life was not about breast cancer.

Author William Bridges developed a model of change and transition that has helped me negotiate everything life brings. In his model, change is often external, instantaneous, and whether wanted or unwanted, it brings endings, loss: marriage, divorce, retirement, or…

Subscribe for unlimited access to

  • NEW! Unlimited access to our premium Mindful Meditations
  • Full access to every story on
  • Print magazine and mobile app
  • Complete PDF library of Mindful magazine

Already a digital subscriber?
Log in to access this article

About the author

Patricia Rockman

Patricia Rockman, MD, CCFP, FCFP is a family physician with a focused practice in mental health. She is the Senior Director of Education and Clinical Services at the Centre for Mindfulness Studies, Toronto. She is an associate professor at the University of Toronto, Department of Family Medicine, cross appointed to Psychiatry. She has extensive experience practicing individual psychotherapy, leading therapy groups, and training healthcare providers in mindfulness based interventions, cognitive behaviour therapy, and change management for stress reduction. She is a freelance writer, yoga teacher, and meditation practitioner.