Growing Your Own Hands

Robin Dilley Grow Your Own HandsBy Robin B. Dilley PhD

This is the first in a series of four on Growing Your Own Hands after the diagnosis of Breast Cancer. You can find a version of this story at
One of my favorite stories to use as a psychologist is the story of the Miller’s Daughter. This story resonates in so many ways with those facing breast cancer and other life threatening situations. This story echoes the many multi layers of emotion throughout the journey with breast cancer, especially that emotion where it is normal to feel as if our bodies betrayed us. The story is an old Grimm’s fairy tale and it goes like this: A miller came upon hard times. He was approached in the forest by a strange character and was told, “If you give me what is behind the mill right this moment, I will make you a rich man.” The miller thought to himself, “There is nothing behind the mill except an old apple tree”, so the Miller agreed. But, to his surprise, it was his daughter that was behind the mill.
So, when the time came, a struggle ensued between the strange character and the miller’s daughter. The daughter used spiritual symbols of that era to protect herself. She drew a circle around herself and the strange character could not pass through the boundary of the circle to acquire his prized possession. Finally, the strange character said to the miller, “Look I am going to take back all of your riches that I have given you unless you cut off your daughter’s hands.” The miller, being a selfish man, did just that.
The miller then turns to his daughter and says, “With my riches, I will build you a castle and take care of you in every lavish way.”
The daughter responded, “No thank you. I will go out into the world and trust the goodness of others.” And so her mother bound her daughter’s handless arms and she left her father’s house for a journey she chose after a traumatic event happened to her. Life as she knew it had came to an end.

  • A struggle ensues.
  • Things are not always as we think they are.
  • We have to rely on our inner resources .
  • And develop spiritual connections.
  • Life as you know it has come to an end.

Over the next seven years, the daughter grew her own hands. When facing all of the struggles of treatment, fears of death, and the constant roller-coaster of emotions that sometimes drown us, there is still that place deep down inside of us that we can access and move forward to write the next chapters of our lives. And by doing so, we grow our own hands again in ways that we never have could imagined.
Once we receive the diagnosis with breast cancer, our emotions go into shock and we are faced with very important life-changing choices. It is important at this time to rely on the goodness of others and build a support system. Ideally, one of those people should be a “research director” who can take the information from the pathology report that gives you the map the oncologist and radiologist will be using to offer you the best treatment options available to you at this time.
Your path report will tell you what type of breast cancer, what stage, what grade, etc. Each one of those foreign words can be researched online to help you better understand what you are facing. By having a good research director on board, s/he can forward you information worth looking at and discard the hundreds of articles that you do not need to know at this time.
From there, create a list of questions for your oncologist and radiologist. There are no stupid questions. And in the emotional turmoil that you are in, you may need to ask the same question over and over until you understand the ramifications of what you are about to go through. It is important to feel that you have choices and that you are a vital part of your own treatment team. There are many oncologists out there, so give yourself permission to shop around if you don’t like the responses you are getting from yours. You may not be able to control the fact that you now have breast cancer, but you can make lots of decisions along the way.
Blogger: Robin B. Dilley PhD

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  1. helensamia says:

    An interesting analogy ……thanks


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