What Breast Cancer Awareness Month Means to a Survivor
I always look forward to Breast Cancer Awareness Month with anticipation. I actually enjoy seeing all the pink merchandise for sale. I appreciate the day of seminars at our cancer center, the supportive editorial in the local paper, and the opportunity to make pink-frosted cupcakes and bring them to work. But most of all–I admit it–I like Breast Cancer Awareness Month because it reminds me once again that I feel good about my life with cancer.
This is the 23rd October that’s been spent recognizing breast cancer, and for the first 16 of them, I could have cared less. Breast cancer? Yeah, 1 in 8, I know. But not me. I’m too young. Too healthy. Too lucky.
And then, BAM. I was still young, still healthy… but no longer lucky. Breast cancer reached out and made me a statistic: the 1 in 8, the 1 of about 184,000 American women who were diagnosed with breast cancer that year. Suddenly, I cared about Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I was halfway through chemo, bald, sore, and sick. But little by little, I was learning what it meant to be a breast cancer survivor. I’d joined the sisterhood; the club no one wants to belong to. And that October, as I tentatively settled in to the rest of my life–my new life, with cancer–I started to pay attention.
And here’s what I saw: a medical community working tirelessly to cure me, and to keep me comfortable as the awful drugs did their work. Colleagues who gladly added my illness onto their already heavy workloads, assuming responsibility for my unmet deadlines while assuring me it was no problem, they had PLENTY of time (a bald-faced lie I never called them on–thanks, guys). Friends who sat with me in the hospital, told me funny stories when I was sad, held me when I cried. A husband who stayed unwaveringly upbeat; who held my dangling drains out of the way as I dressed, and said my scars looked “great.” And a greater community that saw my bald head, realized what it meant, and was, simply, nice: holding a door, offering me a place in line, smiling.
To many, Breast Cancer Awareness Month means a time to reschedule that missed mammogram, get back on track with the self exams, and try to eat healthy. It means wearing a pink turtleneck to be supportive, or buying a pink spatula for the resulting 10% donation to breast cancer research. Maybe it means remembering a mother, sister, or girlfriend who survived breast cancer… or one who didn’t. To some, it might even mean finding out more about this killer by attending an educational forum, or doing a bit of online research; after all, we know breast cancer is something that can become very personal, very fast.
But to me, Breast Cancer Awareness Month means remembering the loving care I received when it was my turn to battle the demon. It means renewing my faith in the inherent goodness of people. It means sharpening my awareness not of breast cancer itself, but of how it’s changed my life–for the better. This month, as I hoist a few with my breast cancer buddies, attend the symposium at our cancer center, and reach out my hand to new women just beginning their cancer journey, I’ll thank God and my lucky stars for the chance I’ve had to start my life again–thanks to the wakeup call of breast cancer.