Saturday, January 16, 2010


Ever since I got breast cancer, I have cultivated a new hobby.

I read the newspaper obituaries.

Not just any obits - I have a goal: I'm looking for women who died of breast cancer.

I know, it's morbid.

I'm not sure why this started. I've certainly never been a death notice reader. Unlike my husband - who during weekend breakfasts would scour the obits and seem delighted at seeing one of his dead mother's old friends listed - I found it a peculiar thing to do. I assumed his habit was some way of connecting with his mother, but I never understood using death as a means to reminisce.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my newspaper reading habits changed. Dear Abby? Out. Death Notices? In.

I'm not sure why I do this. I know most of us, when we read stories in the paper about somebody who has tragically died, look for reasons why it could never be us.

"Well, I wouldn't have been out at 1:00 a.m. so that random freeway shooting couldn't have happened to me." It's a mental trick we use to distance ourselves from tragic accidents and death.

Obviously, since I have cancer, that reasoning is out.

Am I looking for clues as to what they did wrong in treatment so I can feel I'm doing it right?

Unlikely, as I haven't seen any "refused chemo" or "believed only in spirulina and reiki" obituaries.

When I see a woman in her 30s who has succumbed, I do find myself saying, "Oh, she was young, it's worse for them, that's why." but I have no such excuses when I see somebody 50 - and there are more of them. Or us.

Perhaps it's my way of facing an alternate reality. I've never believed I would die of this cancer, and I still don't. But, technically, I could. People with my pathology do, all too often. It's not completely out of the realm of possibility.

Maybe my obituary reading is my own mental trick, except rather than using it to distance myself, I am reminding myself that yes, this is a disease that one dies from.

And, I have it too.



  1. My grandmother used to read the obituaries and death notices. When she was in her 90's and her vision went, she would get whoever was visiting to read them to her. You had to go through them town by town and she would think if she knew anyone in that town and if so, you had to read the names. Then if she knew them, you had to read the whole thing, cut it out or circle it. She died in 1993 and I still read them. And I always look for people who died from cancer - whether breast or thyroid or any other kinds. Its a closet addiction. So no I don't think you are weird or anything

  2. Our newspaper doesn't state how a person died, what happened or what disease they had. Not sure why. Plus if they died in a nursing home it doesn't state it either.

  3. Barbara, our newspaper publishes self-written ones so people often put the cause of death down. Most people put their loved ones died after a "long and courageous battle" with cancer. Today, there is an 86 year old woman listed who died after a courageous cancer battle.

    Some say nothing though. You just see a young woman's face and the last line is "in lieu of flowers, please donate to the Susan B Komen Foundation."

    It's interesting.

  4. I have to say that I read obituaries too. I don't know why. When I find someone who's died of cancer, I try to figure out what kind (as you pointed out, it doesn't always say) and I find myself thinking, again, 'People DIE from breast cancer,' (with sort of dull shock of re-realization) and I ponder it for a while. And then I get up and get living, because it could be my obituary turning up in the paper just as easily as the others.

  5. I think that in the back of our mind it's a survival thing. Like, as sorry as I am that they have succumbed to this incideous disease, I am here for another day, every day above ground is a good day. It sounds selfish and it is, and I don't care, I don't want to die by cancer, I want to go in my sleep naturally, the old fashioned way. Not the path of my mother and grandmother... I have a need to break the mould.


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