Eileen Kaplan, a women’s health advocate and breast cancer survivor, uses humor and inspiration to bring her message of healing and hope to her audiences and readers. The breast humor speaker and Laughter is the Breast Medicine author sat down with Natural Awakenings New Haven/Middlesex counties to speak about her emotional journey with cancer and how humor, engagement, support and advocacy have helped her heal and inspire other women.
How did you discover your cancer? What do you recommend to other women?
If you are diagnosed with dense breasts, it is harder for the radiologists to read mammograms. I am a huge advocate for monthly breast exams. In addition to the wonderful machines that can detect cancer, there is a thing called the hand. Checking your breasts manually once a month is important. It is a chance to find something very early and be able to address it rapidly. I usually have a bar of soap with me when I speak. I tell my audience to lather up and let your hands glide over your breasts to familiarize yourself with your breasts’ makeup. A week after your period is the best time to do it. If you still have your period, of course.
Young people have to learn that this is a personal medical exam and necessary to know the “design”
of their breasts and when changes have happened. There is a difference between a cyst and possible cancer. If you are aware of how they feel normally, that can make all the difference.
You have to really know both sides of your family’s medical history. The more you know, the more you are aware of what to look for – whether it is a growing mole or breast cancer. It’s about knowing your body.
Also, you can go for another opinion. Do not be afraid if you don’t agree with your doctor. You are the goddess of your body. Take care of it.
What was your journey through cancer and beyond?
Having gone through it all, I have come to the conclusion that there is a can in cancer. Aside from the chemo, radiation and everything that goes on, it is how you face it and how you handle it. The diagnosis is a terrible thing. Everyone gets nervous, cries and experiences all kinds of emotions when they get the message. My husband and I toughened up: let’s get it out of my boob and go on with our lives. Even though I had to go through it a second time and eventually a double mastectomy, we turned negatives into positives. It might not even be connected to the cancer but something that happened every day that was hard. I have a capability of turning crazy stuff into silly stuff and laughing. Maybe it was my makeup that allowed me to do that. Of course I cried and prayed. I was on more prayer lines that I could count. You need all this support that can give you the buoyancy you need to get through this very difficult time. It’s not only the diagnosis but what it is – what stage, what type of cancer. The awareness of what it could possibly be by constantly checking yourself. Humor and laughter really carried us through. Everything should be linked to fun, humor and thinking about the positive. Having strong people around you is so important in helping you get through this terrible diagnosis, whether it is your spouse, children, friends or family.
You channeled your experiences into your first book, Laughter is the Breast Medicine. How did that come about?
I had never written a book before. If you are going to be a speaker, you have to be an expert. So I turned myself into an expert on breast humor and how you can laugh when you have breast cancer. You can’t laugh at cancer but you can laugh about the circumstances that are attached to it. A short time ago, cancer was nicknamed the “big C” and was less talked about. Today people are more open to talking about it. All my work experiences that I have done up to writing the book were about engaging people. I wanted to call on my humor as a speaker to make people laugh through this hard time.
The book is very special to me. It is being used mostly as a gift to people who are going through, have been recently diagnosed or are recovering from breast cancer. You need to laugh, even laugh at yourself. The book is my sidekick when I am out speaking. I love the interaction with the audience, knowing that even if they are not breast cancer survivors, they have experienced other kinds. I wanted to let people know what can happen and how I handled my particular cancer.
What is the next step for you?
I am currently writing my next book, My Breast Foot Forward. Telling people what I did after I left my breasts in Boston.
Having my breasts on me, I was constantly worried about them. The second tumor was a recurrence. I was lucky that neither of the tumors had reached my lymphatic system. I had this opportunity for a 95 percent chance of not getting breast cancer by taking my breasts away. I want the second book to be stories of things that have happened as I spoke with audiences and people over the years. For people to know that you can forward in life, even with no breasts. It is life-changing. You can live, you can go on, you can get through the bumps in the road. You are just a little different. Chemo is a form of therapy… so is laughter.
It is a joy in my life to help people get over this dark time in any way I can. Being a mentor is also important. It is important to make yourself and others smile and laugh.