What does breast cancer awareness look like? Is it a T-shirt, a 5K race, a $50 pledge to a charity? Or, is it motivation to schedule your overdue mammogram, regular performance of breast self exams, and calling your friend who is sick, even when you don’t know the right words to say?
Sometimes I choke up when I see pink ribbons and other times I feel like I’m choking on them. The symbol can be a powerful message of support and love, but sometimes the little pink ribbon simply serves as an appeasing Bandaid, usurping the benefits of true “awareness.”
Breast cancer awareness does little good if the awareness doesn’t change thoughts or behaviors.
Over the next few weeks, readers will become more “aware” of breast cancer and it’s effects on individuals, Families and communities. Breast cancer “survivors,” “warriors,” and “angels” each have their own story. This is mine.
I was 24 when I was diagnosed with breast cancer. I probably would have died if it weren’t for my husband, who found it early.
Journal entry from Feb. 19, 2005:
“It’s nearly 6 a.m. and I’ve been tossing and turning all night. So has Luke (our 2 1/2 year-old). I know because we are all sleeping in the same room. Each boy on a couch and James and I on our mattress on the floor. Our house is damaged from a burst pipe and needs $17,000 in repairs. We are hoping insurance will cover it. I had a miscarriage last Wednesday, 10 days ago, and this past Monday had a lumpectomy.
Yesterday, Dr. Anderson sat with James and me in a small exam room and told me that I have breast cancer. I am 24 years old with breast cancer. When she told me, I listened as she explained that in the immediate future I am looking at a mastectomy or surgery and radiation. They only have a small piece of me for information. So, this next Friday I will be going in for surgery to remove the tissue immediately around where the original lump was and to test to see if my lymph system has received any spreading cancer. I have so few answers and so many questions and a whole week to speculate. My sample has been biopsied and is enroute to Washington D.C. to have further testing. On Tuesday, I have an appointment with Dr. Anderson to rehash what she told us yesterday, because most of it went over our heads and to give us the results from Washington D.C.
“I have given a travel-log so far. How do I feel? . . .
“I spoke with my siblings, my parents, my grandma and in-laws yesterday and had to tell each of them that I had cancer. Each time I knew the message I was calling to share with them, but felt as though I was lying each time. I haven’t really internalized it myself. But I know it’s true. I have the care package designed for newly diagnosed breast cancer patients, so . . . I must have breast cancer. My body feels strong . . . but I think this is might be more extensive than a local lump. When I was having this lump looked at through ultrasound, the radiologist thought it looked like a cluster of cysts, clumped together and saw other grey “cysts” all over the rest of my breast. I wonder if those aren’t cancer. This might be a big fight. And I might lose some body parts . . . but I will survive it.
“I have thanked Heavenly Father many times for the miscarriage last week. All of the miscarriages make sense now. Especially, I am grateful, for not having to think about making a choice between my baby and myself. Heavenly Father has spared me from it. Usually this kind of cancer is not felt, but only seen on mammograms. Heavenly Father has shown me the cancer, taken my baby away so I could treat the cancer and made extreme things happen so that I can be on top of it and beat it. My breasts haven’t shrunk since the miscarriage. I wonder if it’s because they are full of cancer? I wonder.
This week’s Breast Cancer Awareness facts are:
-Breast cancer is not an “old lady’s” disease
-Invasive breast cancer will affect one in eight women during her lifetime (breastcancer.org)
-The lifetime risk of breast cancer in men is about one in 1000 (breastcancer.org)
It is estimated that over 40,000 women in the United States will die of breast cancer in 2015 (breastcancer.org)
For women, breast cancer has the highest incidence of death, second only to lung cancer (breastcancer.org)
Early detection saves lives
Pink ribbons can save lives — when they inspire true awareness.
(Editor’s note: This is part one of a series documenting a survivor’s journey.)