Thursday, October 17, 2013

Getting this off my chest

so to speak...

I have a problem with Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Ok, there I said it.

When I told a friend in early 2010 that I had breast cancer, she responded that she knew I could beat cancer. She went on to say she knew that I would be leading a team in the Susan B. Komen walk in October. It was the beginning of my distaste for the commercialism that is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Another friend commented that I might want to visit the Susan B. Komen memorial in Peoria.  Seriously? "Breast cancer survivor" was a "club" I didn't want to belong to.

I understand the need for early detection. My stage one breast cancer was caught early during a routine annual digital mammogram when the radiologist detected a slight change from the previous year.  And I found out in the strangest way.

After a long day at work, I picked up a message on my home answering machine from some medical group wanting me to call them.  I wrote down the number and planned to call them in the morning thinking it was some wrong number.  Did you ever have one of those moments when you wake up in the middle of the night with startling clarity of a situation?  I literally sat up in bed and knew this phone message was bad news related to my mammogram.  Thus began a long journey called breast cancer.

And somehow all of the pink ribbons, pink t-shirts and annual walks kind of rub me the wrong way.  Every TV and print ad during October seems to talk about Breast Cancer Awareness.  I went to a Colts Football game earlier this month, and the players wore pink wrist bands.  Even the mascot was dressed in pink instead of blue.

But the clincher was Tuesday when I saw two men wearing "I love boobies" plastic bracelets.  First was the young guy at the bagel shop, and later that day when shopping for tires,  I noticed the tire shop manager wearing the same bracelet.  Later I researched this bracelet on the internet and learned that it originated at the Keep-A-Breast organization that is geared towards young people and focused on breast cancer prevention and detection. Seems that young people can relate to this "I love boobies" message, and it encourages open dialog about a previously off limits topic: breast health. I am sure it is a well-meaning and valuable organization,  but somehow this message doesn't seem quite right.

I am now 3 years cancer free, and yet hearing I had breast cancer remains one of the most defining moments in my life.  From learning to live with the scars to lymph nodes that swell with a cold to shirts that hang lop sided, and daily hot flashes from a prevention drug, I face this reality every day.

But this experience has also been invaluable to understanding what is truly important in my life.  I finally understood that moving to the same city to live with my husband was more important than living 500 miles apart for my job.  I learned that life is finite,  and I need to focus more on the important people in my life.  I am learning to "go with the flow" and let go of the small stuff that used to bug me.

But really, I don't want to be reminded of breast cancer each October.  I don't want to be part of the cause du 'jour.  I absolutely respect the need for education and ongoing research into the cause and cure for breast cancer.  I just wish we could find a way to do this without wearing pink and bracelets like a badge of honor.  I don't need to be reminded of breast health by the young man at the bagel shop wearing the bracelet "I Love Boobies".  Somehow this just hits me the wrong way...


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