Living for today


Emma Carew

It’s been five years since Deidre Pope, 42, of Scandia, Minn., faced breast cancer and she still doesn’t consider herself a survivor.

“When you say you ‘survive’ something, it means it’s completely over and finished,” Pope said, “and that’s not the case (with breast cancer).”

Pope was studying environmental education at the University when she found a lump in her breast.

Doctors at Boynton Health Service initially told her to just keep an eye on it but a year later, when she experienced excruciating pain in her breast, they performed a mammogram and ultrasound.

“Immediately after, the tech and doctor said ‘We would like to biopsy,’ ” she said.

Pope opted for a lumpectomy – a surgery that removes only the cancerous cells, but leaves the breast largely intact – and radiation therapy, followed by four rounds of chemotherapy.

“I’m a really small person, and I’m very sensitive to medication to begin with,” Pope said. “So it was really a difficult thing to go from being a strong, confident person to feeling just a small, liquid person.”

In August, it was the five-year anniversary of Pope’s surgery.

“The thing is that five years doesn’t mean as much, like with testicular cancer,” she said. “But with breast cancer in young women, it’s a really tricky thing.”

“It’s great to be this far out; it’s fantastic,” she said, “but I still go in four times a year; I’m still very vigilant. You really have to be.”

Pope said after her treatment, she and her partner Robyn began pursuing plans that had previously been dreams.

“We decided to go to Mexico and see the monarch butterflies,” she said. “Before I got sick, I thought, ‘Oh, we’ll do that someday, we have all the time in the world.’ And I don’t.”

The pair made another dream reality by moving from their home in Minneapolis to four acres in Scandia, where they now raise honeybees and chickens.

“I feel so much more at home when I’m connected to the earth,” Pope said. “That’s something that I always wanted.”

Fear of a relapse almost kept them in the city, Pope said, but “this little voice in the back of my head said, ‘So what if that happens? So what if you die in two years? Do you want to have never tried to live in the country?’ And the answer was no.”

These days, Pope said she can “live in a place of hope” even though she knows there isn’t an easy answer for breast cancer.

Recently, she said she has developed correspondence with a friend-of-a-friend facing breast cancer on the East Coast.

“To be able to be a resource to someone like that, it’s been very healing for me,” she said. “I realized that this is something positive that came out of a really negative experience.”