Post by Blog Manager Robbi Hess
I am a breast cancer survivor. June 19 was my one year "anniversary"; the anniversary dates seem to be a fluid date as some women mark their anniversary as the day they were diagnosed and started fighting others (like myself) mark it as the date of surgery and having the cancer radically removed.
I know October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, even if it weren't a survivor, I would know it was -- pink is everywhere. Believe me, I am as girly as the next person and I love pink, have always loved pink, but now pink is a symbol of both all that I have lost and conversely all that I have gained. The conflict is there even in the color of the clothing that I choose. Should I be donning my pink Survivor t-shirt and dance in the streets?
Believe me I am grateful to be alive and thankful to have trusted my care to talented medical professionals from my oncologists to my plastic surgeon to my medical surgeon — without them I wouldn’t have been so well taken care of and honestly, so well “put back together.” Without them chances are I would not be here to write this post.
Breast Cancer Awareness month is one I am happy is there because I think awareness needs to be heightened so it stays front and center in the minds of politicians and medical professionals that are seeking a cure. Remember, though the women you're "celebrating" during the month of October do not go away once the calendar flips to November 1. We are still there and still struggling to get back to a sense of normalcy. We are still there wondering if every ache or pain or bump or bruise means cancer. Sometimes it's an irrational fear, other times it turns into your worst nightmare.
If you saw me walking down the street you wouldn't know what I have gone through. You can't see my scars -- emotional or physical. I look just like you. I laugh. I smile. I grocery shop. If you haven't had cancer, though, I am not like you -- and I never will be again.
When you go for a routine mammogram, you don't expect to hear the words, “We think you have cancer. You need to have a biopsy.” For those of us who have, who will in the future, your life becomes a whirlwind of testing, biopsies, finding an oncologist and a surgeon. You will be asked, "Would you like to do a bilateral mastectomy (you know, just in case your other breast decides in the future to betray you and become cancerous) and now you're faced with losing both breasts. The idea of being “a real” woman again is paramount. Yes, I may have defined myself by my breasts — rightly or wrongly, I loved them. I am growing to love my “new ones” especially now that I have received my tattoos and am looking even more like “a real woman.”
I hate that breast cancer took away my feeling of immortality. My sense of invincibility. I dread the quarterly visits to oncologists and find it hard to take a breath when I’m home waiting to hear the results of a medical test — any medical test.
Why am I iffy about Breast Cancer Awareness month? Is it because I don’t want to be reminded all month long about everything I’ve gone through and how hard it was — and some days still is — to have come out the other side? Is it because I think it shouldn’t be a month long “celebration” but a monthly, weekly, daily even acknowledgement of those who are surviving, struggling to survive and who have lost their valiant battles?
Is it because on some days I can almost (until I look in the mirror) forget that I had cancer — that I have that always-in-the-back-of-my-mind that I HAD cancer and it could come back? True, I could go out and get hit by a bus but believe me your mindset changes once you’ve received a diagnosis. Every headache, hangnail or ache or pain has your mind racing as to whether it’s a new cancer — maybe not for all cancer survivors, but for me it does.
Should I be shouting “I am a cancer survivor. Celebrate me?” Should I wear a t-shirt or carry a sign that announces that fact for me? I don’t know how to feel, how to act or react. Smile and nod at the “celebrations?" I don’t know. I don’t know how long it will take me to even have a good answer — another year? a decade? a lifetime?
I rejoice every triumph my fellow Facebook Booby Buddies announce, every milestone met, every chemo treatment wrap up, every radiation round completed and I cry when we lose a member. Maybe that’s where I need to be — with those who’ve been there, not those who have designated October as the one month out of the year to think about it and talk about it. Maybe I will know more once the month has ended.