You know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, it’s hard not to know, those pink ribbons remind us. From key chains to Yoplait lids, we’re bombarded with that image, that benign but pervasive image encouraging us to part with our money for a good cause. But how many of us really understand what we’re donating to or why?
I know why, because Cancer sucks. Even if you don’t have it, you’ve probably been affected by it in some way. A friend, a co-worker, a relative probably has dealt with cancer. When October rolls around and we see those pink ribbons everywhere we think about those people- but how many of us think about ourselves? “About 1 in 8 U.S. women (just under 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime.” American Cancer Society, 2012
February of 2011, sitting in a hospital waiting room, while my mother had a radical mastectomy- (breast removal surgery). It wasn’t the first time I had been sitting in a hospital waiting room, this was her second bout of breast cancer. The first time she battled breast cancer I was 25, just finishing Basic Training and about to go into AIT- the Army granted me emergency leave to care for her while she recovered from surgery the first time. The first surgery was a lumpectomy, removal of the tumor. As she went through chemotherapy and radiation, I was scared, she was scared. She didn’t loose her hair, and we counted our blessings. But this second time was scarier. The cancer was more invasive, even though over the last 20 years treatments improved, my mom was older and risks were greater. Most women don’t survive a second encounter with invasive breast cancer. My mom was lucky- she’s been cancer free for going on a year now.
Despite better treatment options, higher quality of care, and more research I can tell you that my mother lost a lot, not including her risk for cancer. She lost her hair, due to chemotherapy. She lost a breast to surgery. Most significantly she lost her peace of mind, knowing that she isn’t really risk free, ever. I’ve lost a lot to cancer as well. I willingly gave up my hair to support my mom. I willingly give up my time and money to support the search for a cure. But like my mother, I’ve given up my piece of mind as well.
I’m at high risk. I feel as though breast cancer is a bomb inside my body- and the clock is running down. Both my mother, and her mother survived breast cancer. Which means it isn’t IF, but WHEN will I’ll get cancer. So I have some decisions to make before this bomb explodes. My divorce is forcing me to decide do I cut the blue or red wire. I’m facing the fact that I’ll be losing my insurance and have no guarantee that a new plan will cover what Tricare does now. My monthly self breast examinations, my yearly well-woman exams and yearly mammograms since the age of 25, were enough to keep cancer from exploding. Now I have to decide- should I have surgery to remove my healthy breasts in anticipation of cancer- a procedure Tricare will cover? Or do I wait and endure the chemotherapy, radiation and possible surgery to remove my breasts later? I need to decide soon. I’ve promised my mother I won’t do anything drastic until I have all the facts, which includes genetic testing to see if I have the breast cancer gene. But given my family history, it’s a forgone conclusion I do.
I haven’t made any decisions yet. But I am thinking about the repercussions of cancer. Cancer has forced me to become a bomb technician in my own life, while divorce has set the timer. My mother says- “If you get cancer, you’ll be strong enough to deal with it.” I believe her… after all she raised me and she survived. But what if I just don’t want to get it in the first place? What if I just want to skip the loss, pain, vomiting and lethargy that come with cancer? I have choices. I have choices in no small part because of that pink ribbon.
I know some people are cynical- including my own mother, about where the money goes or why there isn’t a cure already. But do me a favor, when you see that pink ribbon or someone asks you to donate to the cure, give a little, give a lot, but just give. It doesn’t have to be money, it can be time, it can be friendship, it can be support of someone’s battle. For some of us, it’s a ticking time bomb. Knowing that- I’ll keep giving.