Seeing Stars: Putting the mask on yourself first

When I first diagnosed with cancer in 2004, my biggest worry was how it was going to affect my husband, our business, my own daughter, my step kids and my foster child.

When I read this statement now, I realize how stupid that was but at the time it was terrifying to think I might lose my Wonder-Woman status.  I had a lot of balls in the air and copious amounts of control-freak energy working for me back then. Fast forward two years and thankfully I let all the balls drop to save myself. But it wasn't easy.

This little reality about myself is why I'm still angry with the late Elizabeth Edwards. Every time I think of her I get mad, may she rest in peace but she's a perfect example of what not to do when you have cancer. Truthfully, I'm mad at myself. I was married to the same lying low-life and worked full-time, cooked, cleaned, etc., while he sat on the couch watching motocross. My hair was falling out and my nose bleeding, I don't remember much of 2005 but God forbid my cancer inconvenience him in any way.

My oncologist noticed that right away and insisted I cut back. He told me that getting women to care for themselves first was his biggest challenge. He explained that this was real life and death but I kept thinking of all those horrible Wonder-Women role models that I'd seen on TV. I kept up a ridiculous pace until my body gave out and I couldn't do it anymore.

As I began to heal, I started getting angry that my husband and step kids didn't lift a finger to help me. I began to say no to their ridiculous demands. I started putting my self first. I chose to sleep 7 hours instead of getting up early to cook his breakfast even though I'd been up till 2 a.m. doing the books. I had money, so I started booking weekly massage appointments and leaving the office early to have dinner with friends. I began to love my body, my life and myself because I was truly blessed to still have it all. This was a turning point in my life that remains today, courtesy of breast cancer in Situ and the words of my oncologist that did take a while to reach my consciousness.

Elizabeth Edwards didn't make it. Right after I ended my marriage to the cheater in late 2007, my daughter was on the Edwards campaign for a while before Obama took off.  She and I would discuss how all the reporters knew he was having an affair but the info was unreliable coming from TMZ, who got the last laugh by breaking the video story.

Anyway, she would tell me how for photo ops campaign managers would pull Elizabeth out of the bus, disheveled, no makeup, sickly, with no attempt to hide her thinning hair and black toenails, so she could toss around a football with the Senator. Clearly, this was designed to show what a trooper she was and help him get the sympathy vote. All the while, he was cheating on this woman.

Elizabeth was a woman with vast resources, big money and staff.  She could have easily been home taking care of herself but she chose the most grueling lifestyle of all to get her lying cheat of a husband elected as president instead of focusing on her own healing. This is infuriating to me because of all the sick women out there who think that was bravery and an example of how a cancer patient should behave. It's really wrong and an example of what someone should absolutely not do.

If you are an ill person behaving this way or know somebody acting like this, it must stop now. Life is short and sometimes the only thing that matters is you. If you care about yourself and loved ones, you must put the oxygen mask on yourself first.

Cassandra M. Bellantoni is a Los Angeles freelance reporter, producer, video editor and featured front-page blogger on Huffington Post. Follow her on Twitter @StarShineSpeaks or email


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