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My Story

An open letter to the folks at DHMC

I want to thank all of you for saving my life. Without you, I'd be just a memory—a name on a headstone, a fading byline in a stack of old newsletters.

Without your care, my husband would be a widower, eating dinner alone at the table, listening for a loving voice that, after 30 years, is no more. Without your excellent care, my son would have lost his mother at 15, way too young, teetering on that thin edge between little boy and grown man. Even now, he's still got enough boy in him to want a hug from his mother. Thank you for my loving arms still wrapped tight around his shoulders.

Had I not been a patient at your hospital, my 82-year-old mother would have had to live through the death of a second daughter. No mother should lose even one child; I don't think I could have borne the sadness had I known she'd lose me, too. Who would call her every day, ask her how she's feeling, explain to her (again) how to use her cell phone? Who would make sure she's coping all right with the loss of both her husband (my dad) and her younger child (my sister) in the span of just two years? Thank you for letting my mom keep her last daughter.

My friends thank you for letting me stay in their midst. The women I work with, the folks whose lives I casually touch throughmy job, everyone who depends on me for a smile, a joke, advice, a shoulder to lean on—they all thank you.

Finally, I thank you for myself. I'm not ready to die. I have books to write, trails to hike, long conversations to hold. I need to see my son grown up; I want to have a daughter-in-law and grandchildren—more family to hug.

There will be many women with cancer whom I can touch. I can help each one turn her potential death sentence into the start of a new life. Life lived to its fullest, as only those who've stared at death can live it. You gave me the ultimate gift: a second chance. It's the best gift I've ever had.

And so, although the two small words can't possibly do justice to what I feel, I want to say, simply, thank you.

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P.J. Hamel—a senior editor at King Arthur Flour Company, headquartered in Norwich, Vt.—describes herself professionally as a "baker and blogger." She writes the King Arthur catalog, creates recipes, has written cookbooks, and blogs about baking on the company's website. Personally Hamel is, among many other roles, a cancer survivor—and she has blogged about cancer since shortly after her diagnosis in 2001. Writing, she explains, is a thread that has run through her entire life. In this feature, she reflects on the experiences and emotions, beginning eight years ago, of being diagnosed with and treated for breast cancer.

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