It’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month again and pink ribbons are popping up everywhere. I hate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Don’t get me wrong, I think raising money to fight this awful disease and to help those who struggle with it is wonderful, it’s just that my personal deal with breast cancer is, if it doesn’t bother me again, I’ll forget about it most of the time.
I knew I would write about this sometime; I didn’t know it would be the pink gloves on a football player that kicked me into action.
It’s been seven years since a combination of stupidity, genetics and bad luck led me into the world of breast cancer. I had a bad cancer with lots of lymph node involvement. Due to the placement of the tumor I had to have a mastectomy and reconstructive surgery. This meant nine hours of surgery followed by four months of chemotherapy, followed by five weeks of radiation. I was given 50-50 odds of being here to write this.
I’m here because I received excellent medical care and had the constant support of a loving husband, two great kids, wonderful friends and a host of people who cared about me far more than I imagined. I am a lucky woman.
What I am not is a heroic survivor. I have read about other people’s heroic battles with breast cancer, how they were optimistic and positive, how they kept their families going through their own strength and never felt sorry for themselves. I am not that woman. I was terrified, angry, and consistently mean and nasty for most of a year. For most of a year I didn’t say, “I can beat this thing”, I said, “I’m going to die.” If having a positive attitude is as important as everyone seems to think it is I would be dead.
I hate the word survivor. In this context it implies some kind of toughness and heroism. I didn’t do anything. I took my doctor’s advice. The surgery was horrible; the chemo was not, so I went back to work about six week into treatment. Again, how heroic. Not really, I just got tired of being at home, so I went to work where people fussed over me and where people talked about other things.
My favorite medical encounter in this whole ugly part of my life was with a resident in Radiation Oncology. I only saw him once, just before I started radiation. He looked at the reconstruction and said, “It looks great. I’m sorry to tell you that it will look worse after the radiation.”
“I don’t care how it looks,” I said, “I care about being alive.”
He said, “That’s how you feel now. Three years down the road when you’re healthy and living your normal life, you’re going to care about how it looks.”
He was right. I do care about how it looks and about a host of other things that are directly or indirectly related to having this cancer. I am pissed that my once full, thick hair came back thin and limp. I am unhappy that I never recovered all of my previous energy. There are other things, it doesn’t matter what they are. The point is I don’t get up every morning thankful that I am alive. I should, we all should. Any one of us could be run over by a bus this morning.
The point here is that I get up most mornings and consider the day ahead. There are good days and there are bad days. Some days are fun, some days are not, but it has nothing to do with cancer. It’s just my life, my regular ordinary life. To me, that’s what being a survivor is all about.