I’m pretty ambivalent about non-holiday special days and months. I’m not sure why we need one particular day each year to remember to love and respect our mothers, our fathers, our dogs… shouldn’t those be every day? And then there’s apparently National Singles Awareness Day, National Accordion Month, and National Yo-Yo Day? Really? Although some of the unique days I can appreciate, like Chocolate Chip Cookie Day, Blueberry Muffin Day, and Garden Meditation Day. I could get behind all of those with enthusiasm. For the most part though, I let the myriad of proclaimed special days go by with little to no fanfare.
I feel I would be remiss, however, if I let this big Pink Month go by without a post or at least some acknowledgement. I would need a hundred blog posts to come close to fulfilling my diatribe about all cancers in general. My passionate hatred of the disease in all forms is profound. I’ve lost far too many loved ones due to some form of the ugly beast. But for now, I will reign it in and give some focused attention to October’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. Not just because I am a Real Woman who writes for and about all Real Women, but because 1 in 8 women will be affected by the disease. 1 in 8. Staggering.
Five years ago I was one of the many too many women who find themselves sitting in a doctor’s exam room, receiving the dreaded and immediately terrifying news. As I’ve said so many times since, I was lucky. It was caught very early thanks to regular and detailed mammograms. It was still condensed into one duct where the evil cells were giving birth to each other. I had a lumpectomy by an extremely skilled surgeon, (my girls no longer point in exactly the same direction, but otherwise they look fairly normal for a middle-aged chick), followed by a pretty easy recuperation. I then had several weeks of radiation, administered by kind and calm women with whom I had frequent shoe conversations. I had the expected side effects of exhaustion and skin reactions, but neither were debilitating. At the end of those weeks, I rang the bell, got my hug and my certificate of completion, went home with my calendula cream and started my five-year relationship with Tamoxifen. That relationship went pretty smoothly too, with the also predicted could-be-real-or-could-be-fake menopausal symptoms. I took my last pill this past May. Which I suppose was a reason to celebrate, but it was also a bit scary. I felt like I was letting go of my invisible shield or my security blanket that was helping protect me from a return visit from the evil monster. I’ve been extremely healthy since (that sound you hear is me knocking on wood.) As I said, I was very lucky.
There are SO many women out there who have had, or are now experiencing, far more difficult fights. Not just the famous celebrities who reveal their diagnosis and treatments, but the very real women in all of our lives. One RW in my life was diagnosed 3 years before me and had a much harder journey that included radiation and the brutality of chemotherapy. She made it through, but still has scar tissue in her lungs from her treatments. Another had a similar diagnosis as mine, yet dealt with horrible blisters and rashes from the radiation. One amazing RW in my life had a return of the damn disease and bravely had a double mastectomy. I’d like to say that if I was faced with that situation, it would be a no brainer. Healthy life vs. boobs, easy decision, right? I don’t think so, more like excruciating decision. Like it or not, these things tend to help define who we are. Some of us nurse our children with them. Some of us choose our styles based on them. They tend to be a symbol of our sex appeal. No matter our relationship with our breasts, they are part of our bodies, and the choice to remove them to live longer and healthier is one that only the strongest can handle.
While the survival rate from breast cancer when caught early is very good, the story is not always of success. I was just speaking with an RW on Sunday who lost her sister to breast cancer, and she now helps annually with fund raisers and awareness campaigns. That’s the thing about every RW who deals with her version of these stories. The inner strength they have to cope and keep going is amazing and beautiful. And every one is different. We who are part of “the club” can sympathize, encourage, support, and maybe even compare notes and stories. But we can’t completely understand what each woman is going through because every cancer battle has its own challenges.
I’ve read view points on various social media platforms in the past couple of weeks from women who are offended by some of the activities, messages and “celebrations” around breast cancer, as if perhaps it is not being taken seriously. As I said, everyone is different. I don’t care if men want to jump on the bandwagon and wear “Save the Tatas” tshirts, or people want to wear fluorescent pink, go for huge fundraising walks, take pictures of their dogs wearing pink balloons strapped to their chests, or tie pink ribbons to their doors. All I care is that some event, some comment, some photo, some story, causes us all to do two things:
First, take care of yourself. GET YOUR MAMMOGRAMS. Do your self-evaluations. Make healthy choices. The one annual appointment I have never put off is with my Ob/Gyn and for my mammograms. No, they are not fun. But they are vitally important. A few minutes of squeezing and squashing discomfort is worth it to save your life. It is easy to forget or avoid doing self-exams, I know, I get it. I often wonder if I’d ever recognize an issue if I felt one, since I didn’t detect it previously. Plus (here’s where any men still reading this may get more uncomfortable), I, like many women, have dense fiberous breasts. AKA: Lumpy boobs. Makes it tough to know what I’m feeling. But hey, I’m willing to do my best and ask questions if anything feels wonky.
Secondly, appreciate every day. Take nothing for granted. Be kind to yourself, or even better, be kind to someone else. Be supportive. Remember those numbers, 1 in 8. That means the odds are really, really good that a woman you pass by today is fighting the fight, or is worried about a loved one who is in the middle of it, or is feeling like shit and is pushing herself to carry on her normal day anyway.
I say go ahead and recognize this month anyway you want. With quiet thoughts, prayers, or big and bold events and activities. Don’t just limit yourself to this month. Keep it going. If we can convince any woman to go get an exam and mammogram, then all that pink hoopla is worth it. It means more people can have more healthy days in their lives.
After all, every day is special, isn’t it?