Monday, October 13, 2014

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Every month is October for survivors

Every month is October for me | Yes, We Rise

Breast cancer awareness isn't just one month for me

I was diagnosed with stage 3 breast cancer in 2008. Before I was diagnosed, October was for Halloween. Yes, I was familiar with breast cancer awareness month but I didn't focus on it much. Once I was diagnosed however, I felt excited about Pinktober. The first year. I felt like people could SEE me, recognize my struggle and that somebody somewhere would do something. I felt acknowledged. I felt supported. I felt loved.  That was my first year of Pinktober.

Then my second year of Pinktober came around... and I was tired.

I was still in active treatment. Still going to the doctor's office like it was my damn job. I was tired of having breast cancer. I wanted my breast back. MY breast... the one God equipped me with from the start. Yeah, the sick one. I wanted it back. I didn't want the sickness back but I wanted that comfortable wholeness back because once it was taken from me... I never quite felt the same again. I still don't.

The third year... I was a little more militant about it.

Every month is October for me | Yes, We Rise
Nic Nac Paddywack in 2008 after 3 months of chemotherapy
I felt like perhaps I needed to DO something. Needed to get the ball rolling somehow. I was slightly confused by all the companies and people who wanted to contact me regarding my blog. They wanted me to write about their fantastic new products that would raise awareness. All of their glorious pink things. They wanted me to give away things. Or wear things. Or go to events. Or write. A few people wanted to write for my blog. That touched me. Until I saw what some of them wanted to write about.

By the fourth year... I was numb.

By now, women that I new personally were dying. Women who were my friends before breast cancer and women I met along the way... were no longer here. Their deaths hurt deeply. I felt a loss and a strong fear that my breast cancer recurrence would be more likely than the 30% chance my oncologist had given me. And, more insultingly, people I loved were being diagnosed. Somehow, I thought MY diagnosis was enough to protect my circle from this. I was wrong. I wasn't the sacrificial lamb that would protect the flock from this scourge.

Each pink ribbon felt like a grave marker. I had become more aware of the intricate dances going on within the breast cancer community. I felt like an outsider in my own clique most of the time. We're all pink ribbon sisters and brothers and yet... we are looking at the messaging around the pink ribbon in a lot of different ways.

Black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to die from the disease than other groups. Breast cancer awareness is critical for the black community. 
Tweet: Black women who are diagnosed with breast cancer are more likely to die from the disease than other groups.

Meanwhile, in the broader breast cancer community, there are varying perspectives about the necessity for continued awareness programs. Or what should be covered in those activities. Is there one right way to market the pink ribbon? How many more women that I knew were going to be diagnosed... or worse, were going to die? Leaving behind a lot of heartbroken friends and family members who only had memories and questions. When would it stop?

Fifth year... annoyed and slightly frustrated.

But more happy than previous years about Pinktober. I learned how to cope with the influx of attention from businesses that wanted me to validate their products for my readers. I learned that grieving would always be a part of my life -- grieving for my personal losses and also grieving the ache of losing women to this disease (both personal friends and strangers) -- and it was okay. I accepted that I would always have lymphedema and it didn't kill all of my cuteness. I found love this year and he helped me to see this disease through fresh eyes. I realized that I was becoming jaded because I assumed that all people had the same knowledge that I did. But they don't. Because unless breast cancer was personal to them... it only came once a year really. Like Christmas.

This is my sixth year of Pinktober since my diagnosis.

This year I am not pink-fatigued. I am still very cautious about products and marketing to my readers. I have renewed my dedication to raising awareness. And I am aware that for some members of the breast cancer community, this seems highly redundant and too elementary for where we are in the efforts to find a cure.

Every month is October for me | Yes, We Rise
Nic Nac Paddywack at the Komen Race for the Cure, DC, May 2014
I finally have the voice to say... Awareness is never going out of style.

Each year more people come into this world who don't know all the history behind the pink ribbon. They only know that the NFL wears a lot of it, pink ribbons represent breast cancer awareness and that women can lose their hair and their breasts. Every year, someone has to be there to teach them; to remind some and to shame others (*smile*) into caring about their future and their health by being proactive about caring for their breasts.

Each community that is affected by breast cancer is not affected the same as another community. We're all vulnerable to getting the disease but the rates of mortality vary. The toll of the disease on our bodies is different. And while more women than ever are living long lives after their diagnosis, learning to navigate the new normal of their lives is brand new, each time.

More awareness needs to focus on those sisters who are living with metastatic breast cancer (my stage IV sisters). Their needs and their sensitivities are different from mine. How do you market "hope" and "you can live a fulfilling life after breast cancer" to women who are scrambling from one treatment protocol to the next looking for relief, looking for an extension of their lifespans, looking for yet another glimmer of promise that the time ahead is a lot longer than they thought it would be?

I am a breast cancer survivor every day of the year.

Every month is October for me | Yes, We RiseThe pink ribbon does not go out of style for me, ever. Unlike some, it does not fatigue me anymore to see those pink ribbons. And yes, I buy (and accept) pink gifts all year long. One, because pink has always been one of my favorite colors and two because pink reminds me that I am human and frail and I overcame a devil that was trying to take me out. I'm not superwoman... but I'm real close. And each pink ribbon reminds me of those sisters I've lost... whose spirits were pure and who brought joy and sparkle to the world. They are gone but never forgotten. They live on in my heart and in the hearts of their loved ones.

The pink ribbon gives me empathy. I pray for a day that we have a cure (though I don't know what I'll do for a job when that day comes, LOL). I also pray that people understand that as frightening as all of this is... there are nuggets of joy within the process.

Three hundred and sixty five.

The number of days in a year. The minimum number of breast cancer thoughts I have in a year. October is 31 of those 365. Make the most of this time. Learn. Teach. Share. Embrace. Have compassion. And be diligent about your own breast health.

Until there is a cure... xoxo

You can follow my breast cancer journey at My Fabulous Boobies
You can learn more about breast cancer at Susan G. Komen Foundation


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