When most people think of October, fall leaves changing colors, pumpkin spice, Halloween, and pumpkins come to mind. But if you are someone who has had breast cancer, all you see is pink. You walk into the grocery store and there’s pink everywhere. The dollar store has a pink section. Even your favorite restaurant is serving a special “pink drink” with proceeds going somewhere to support breast cancer. So, as we enter this month, I have a few things that this cancer survivor would like everyone to know.
Breast cancer isn’t all pink and fun and beautiful. Now, this is a hard sell as someone who LOVES all things pink. However when I was diagnosed at the ripe old age of 31, the color explosion felt a little bit in your face. I still love pink and will wear it all day every day if it helps spread awareness for breast cancer and prevention, but I think most survivors really just want you to know and to understand one thing: breast cancer stinks.
For me it was a big surgery to remove both of my breasts. Then months of chemo, a bunch of radiation, and a full year of more drugs to make sure I stayed cancer-free.
Honestly, I didn’t understand how much this would impact me. As soon as I heard that I needed a mastectomy, I wanted them off my chest immediately. Yet, after I went through everything, I realized I never said a proper goodbye to those two beautiful body parts that fed my three babies. I never said goodbye to a piece of myself.
Do I regret my decision, or do I wish I had done things differently, or do I wish doctors had told me something different? Absolutely not. I just want women to understand what breast cancer is and what it looks like, because I didn’t. And I think most of all, I wish more women knew what they could be doing for themselves to help monitor and check for cancer, and help remind others they love.
I would love to be able to tell a younger version of myself how important it is to self-monitor and check yourself once a month. Being your own first-line of defense is invaluable as you take note of any changes in your body. Sitting in the breast center waiting room I remember seeing all kinds of statistics posted, and I kept telling myself “there’s absolutely no way I could be the 1 in 8”… and then I was.
Truth be told, I must not have been paying close attention in my human development classes over the years, because I truly didn’t even think it was possible to get breast cancer in your 30s. I figured I wouldn’t have to worry about it until I needed mammograms. Now, armed with so much more knowledge and real life experience, I would love to see women checking in with their circles and reminding each other to self-check. And if they notice anything, encouraging each other to bring it up with their doctor.
I also wish I had known of all the free resources and helpful places women can go to get a free mammogram. While I was lucky enough to have insurance and be able to go to the doctor of my choosing, many aren’t. A lot of women ignore symptoms because they don’t know where to go. But that doesn’t have to be the case! If you visit the CDC website, you can search for locations where you live through the National Breast and Cervical Cancer Early Detection Program.
It’s also essential for the general population to know where their money is going. So many of the cute and fun pink items luring us in because we think we are supporting something that will help women don’t actually donate much to the real live women in the thick of it. And isn’t that who we want to be helping?
It is so important to make sure that we are checking that reliable organizations are receiving actual money, and then in turn are helping women who need it. Two of my favorite organizations helping women are the Breast Cancer Research Foundation and Metavivor. There are so many wonderful organizations, I encourage you to do a quick Google search to check where the money is going to.
Hearing you have cancer is one of the scariest things, and it’s terrifying to ask a doctor if you’ll get to see your kids grow up. Cancer hurts and is sad and scary and exhausting. But in the midst of the pain, I have found unbelievable and incredible joy. I have been so blessed with the most amazing husband and three kiddos who are incredibly resilient and strong, and who actually all think that strep throat is SO much worse than cancer.
Seeing the people I love come together to help my family and me through every single step of my experience makes me cry to this day. To have best friends sit with you in the hospital and help change your dressings and bring food over and promise to tell your kids all the embarrassing stories about you if something happens makes everything worth the hard parts. Having a family of teachers at work support you and a school community go to great lengths to support you and show you love is amazing. To have family members help keep life normal for your kids makes everything so much easier.
And to have the most incredible medical team on the planet, oncology nurses that let your kids come to appointments and show them how to access ports and then give them entirely too many treats, and receptionists who know you too well and give your youngest suckers during appointments, and specialist doctors who check in on you make everything so much better.
All of this to say, even though I was dealt a really stinky hand, I am still the luckiest lady alive.
So, while you’re busy checking yourself, reminding your lady friends to check themselves and checking in on friends who have breast cancer or had breast cancer, I really want you all to do one special thing for me. Close your eyes and take a big deep breath. Be so thankful for that breath and that moment and the special people in your life and the kids you’re raising and the friends who have your back. Because if cancer has taught me anything, it’s to be so insanely grateful for this magical little life we get to live. We are so lucky.