The writer and her husband have lived in the Town of Bethlehem for just over 10 years. She is a teacher in the Schalmont Central School District, and she has two boys ages 8 and 5. She was diagnosed with breast cancer on March 27 and is currently undergoing chemotherapy, which will be followed by radiation therapy.
“I don’t even like the color pink.” That was one of my first thoughts when my doctor told me the lump in my right breast was cancer.
So here I am, in the midst of treatments for Stage 3 breast cancer and suddenly those pink ribbons are quite relevant.
My scars are healed, but the back of my arm is still numb. My hair is gone, but I can’t tell you how many compliments I’ve gotten on my new “haircut.” I can keep up with my kids, but my errands will have to wait.
I was 35 when diagnosed. Too young for regular mammograms. I have no family history, I nursed both of my children, and I live a healthy lifestyle. I might not have expected this, or asked for this, but here I am.
I’ve often wondered, why out of all of the charities, breast cancer has gotten so much attention. Why is breast cancer such a favorite cause? Pink ribbons are everywhere, on everyone. Who hasn’t seen those BOOBIES rubber bracelets? The juice I buy donates a portion of its proceeds to breast cancer research. Yogurt containers claim to “Share My Courage.” Garbage companies offer pink cans for patrons to roll to the curb. Women are invited to come onto morning TV shows without their wigs. But I’m sitting here in yoga pants, a green T-shirt and a wig to match my regular hair color. I don’t feel pink today. I’m just trying to rest so I can take care of my family before my next treatment.
I know why all this pink pervades in October. It’s because it’s personal. It’s for the mothers, and the sisters, and the daughters, and the wives. It’s like, attack all of us (lung cancer, heart disease, ALS, poverty), and we’ll show concern, we’ll help each other and donate. But to attack the innocence that is the bosom of our caregiving mothers? The sweetness of our daughters? Our best friend and sister? The love of lives, our wives? That’s like a kick to the gut. It makes us angry and it makes us want to cry. It seems like a heinous crime for a disease to attack mostly women. Didn’t cancer ever hear of chivalry? Apparently not.
And so it is that the body who sustains life in the womb, who feeds and who comforts is attacked by a disease that could care less but to grow and spread, often aggressively.
Women like me who are used to protecting others are forced to look inward and protect our own bodies against internal foes. We remove the cancer with surgery, attack the cells with chemotherapy and then “zap” the remaining cells with radiation. We sacrifice our femininity by losing our breasts, hair, eyelashes and even our estrogen. What’s left depends on those around us.
What does a 5-year-old boy see when he brushes hair off his mommy’s head? He sees his mommy. What does a husband see when his wife lies on the couch, weak from treatment? He sees his wife. What does a father see when his daughter complains of aches and pains? He sees his daughter. What does a best friend see when the survivor admits she needs her help? She sees her sister. In their eyes we haven’t changed.
Breast cancer threatens all of that. It threatens to take away the family as we know it, to leave a father without his daughter, a family without its mother, a man without his wife, a best friend without a sister. The woman who was diagnosed didn’t do anything to deserve it. On the contrary, she held them all in the very bosom that has betrayed her.
So why does breast cancer get all of the attention when there are so many other causes out there? Heck, when there are so many other cancers out there! It’s because of the value we place on women; our mothers, daughters, wives and sisters. We expect them to always be there for us. We still consider them innocent. We love them. We want to protect them, but we also want them to be there to protect us.
So be it. I’ll wear pink. And I’ll thank you for the attention, this month and next month, too. While I’m at it, I’ll even encourage you to give yourself a breast exam, even if you are too young and you lack a family history. And if you feel something that just isn’t right (whether you are a man or woman), call your doctor right away. Perhaps by coming together in this fight against breast cancer we’ll all survive and have the strength to face the next challenge in the form of a colored ribbon or ice bucket!