This month, always is a mixed bag of blessing and conflict for me. A solid month of Pink, celebrating survivors and remembering our loved ones lost to Breast Cancer. Truthfully, I have spent most of October in reflection. I quietly wear a small pink ribbon year round because breast cancer is not a once a year, for one month disease. So what did I physically do for Breast Cancer Awareness Month this year? Well for starters I began each day as I always do, with thankfulness. No, I didn’t walk; I didn’t put out any survivor ribbons in the yard, wear a pink T-shirt or purchase anything in honor of my own survival. To be honest, I haven’t actually done anything this year outside of supporting a particular amazing fundraiser whose goal is supporting those affected by this disease. What I have really done though is reflect. Interestingly enough, I haven’t experienced all the fanfare usually associated with October which I found to be a relief honestly. Instead I found by focusing on my family, loving them and celebrating our small, beautiful moments together was the bigger blessing in my life rather than anything else!
I really thought long and hard about where I wanted to plant myself during this particular month this year. It has absolutely been a personal choice, one I didn’t come to lightly. In many ways, my deliberate decision this time around to step back from the pink take over in October served as a real area of personal growth and an acceptance of my own battle with this beast beyond anything I could have imagined. So as this month comes to an end I want to talk openly about breast cancer because when November 1st comes around most folks will go on, put their pink away until next October and move forward with life as if this demon doesn’t exist any longer.
Life Lesson # 10: Acceptance, finding ourselves in the bare truth of who we are.
Breast Cancer seems like two little words yet together they hold such big impact. Most of you know my story; I was 32 years old, raising two little boys, no family history when I was diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer. The coming year brought the loss of my breast, the discovery of lymph nodes infected, six months of chemo and countless surgeries which reached well into my 5 year mark. The loss of a breast is almost surreal, as it is life changing. Learning to dress, to look at yourself in the mirror and to cover your scars, all in an attempt to make life more bearable is a process. I remember watching the surgeon draw marks with a black sharpie around my diseased breast, knowing full well I wasn’t coming out of the OR with both my breasts attached like it was yesterday. Let me tell you, it is a feeling beyond description. Talk about a reality check.
Chemo followed, though it was an unexpected gift after by chance lymph nodes were removed and tested because of something the doctor felt before closing me up. Suddenly I not only had the loss of a breast to deal with but the possibility of something worse, death. Chemo was downright despicable. TAC, (Taxotere ,Adriamycin and Cyclophosphamide) was my doctors’ poison of choice. I lost all my hair within a week, and to this day I can’t begin to describe how unprepared I was for the physical pain of my hair falling out. Not long afterwards, I found the joys of no longer needing to shave. My eyebrows on the other hand waited around to fall out a few more months, along with my eyelashes. I was swollen, hairless, one boobed and sick continually despite the anti-nausea meds. What about the steroids, well they were simply the cherry on top! So there I was at 33, just 3 months into treatment and I looked and felt more like E.T. than actual E.T. did himself! The reality was I had no choice but to learn to accept and be comfortable with the new me I was becoming. Yes I could have been angry, I could have fallen apart, hide myself away but by God’s grace I didn’t. Instead I found peace, joy and humor in the midst of so much upheaval and uncertainty. I wasn’t brave on my own, courage came with getting up every day, looking for the blessings waiting for me and sharing those little moments with my family I have now come to cherish.
So many of us tend to get excited, we rally for the cause, showcase triumphs during October, but what are we doing year round to honor those we call heroes during this month of breast cancer awareness? I guess this is my real cause for reflection. Sure, I could have worn my pink, showcased my own battle, and made a statement. I guess this year I just needed more than all the Pink ribbons in the world could offer me. True, no one stopped me this month acknowledging I was a survivor and yet I didn’t miss any of the hoopla this time around. Quite honestly, I was content in reflecting, allowing myself to fade away from this identity of being anchored in the color pink. I am still a warrior, I will always wear pink, year round, in memory of my fallen sisters, and I will always and forever be a survivor. I guess I have just stepped back, and taken a good long, hard look at where I am today.
So yes while cancer tried to destroy my body and chemo tried to poison it, the scars they left behind did not ruin me. Instead they gave me life, a second chance, not only to discover who I could be but to embrace who I was underneath and beyond breast cancer. The truth, breast cancer is ugly, cruel and vicious, leaving those of us in her path misshapen and scared. Yet in the acceptance of these things we are beautiful and lovely, not bound by the world’s idea of such things, but by our own definition. My honest, bare truth is this: I've come a long way in my journey, from the chemo couch to where I stand presently. Today, I am a breast cancer survivor eight years strong! I am not physically whole but I am complete emotionally, spiritually and mentally. I have had this time afforded me, time many others have not, to watch my boys grow into men, to be loved and give love and embrace my imperfections. My body is a canvas of stories to be told, in no way perfect, though very much scared and sown back together again, a canvas of awkward and lifesaving workmanship. The life I have in the aftermath of breast cancer is beautiful, a mixed gift of conflict and blessings, and yes wrapped up in a big bright pink bow from time to time.