Thursday, October 14, 2010
Breast cancer awareness
Breast cancer isn't a pretty disease. Both my mother and my wife had breast cancer. My mother was diagnosed when I was in graduate school. She had a radical mastectomy. I can remember the call from my father telling me that my mother had been diagnosed with cancer. I was worried for her. Yet, it was inconceivable to me that my mother would die from the disease. My most vivid memory of that time is going to the hospital to see her after the surgery and seeing the large bandage on the right side of her chest.
Yet, this tiny woman was upbeat and cheerful. She didn't seem worried or concerned. It was as if this was just a little inconvenience for her. She said that she would be up and going to a tea party in another week or so. And because of her attitude, I didn't worry about the outcome but felt assured that everything would be okay.
In my own selfish mind at the time, she had given me permission to go back to school and continue with my studies as if they were the most important thing in the world. And I left my mother to her own introspection about this disease. I simply wasn't aware. I didn't realize how difficult it was for her to cope emotionally and physically.
It wasn't until much later that I learned how much my mother denied things. She was stoic in all regards and seemed so brave to me, yet in later life, she suffered from severe depression. I wonder now whether she ever had sleepless nights over the breast cancer diagnosis. I wonder whether her bravery was just a mask for denial. Her brave front was just the sign that I needed to send me as fast as possible back to my studies so that I could sequester myself in my own controlled little world.
Breast cancer came around in my life again when my wife was diagnosed several years ago. Once again there was a stoicism and optimism that made me think that things would be okay. She also had a mastectomy. She went through a long breast reconstruction process. And I know that she cried and was apprehensive. She voiced her worries. I can remember how she would interpret every ache as metastasis, how she would pour over breast cancer books, and how she would follow a number of blogs about the disease.
Finally, we talked about the fact that it might be a good idea to move on. C. acknowledged that focusing on the disease, the survivors and their stories, and the roll call of the dead may not be the best thing. She decided to not limit herself because of the disease but to move forward. But she also didn't deny her cancer as my mother did. I saw in both these women how the disease can cause a lot of pain. I think that after the diagnosis C. had a different perspective on life. She was more aware of living.
There are a lot of brave women (and men) who have dealt with breast cancer. They are courageous to me. A team of survivors gets out on the water and paddles dragon boats every Wednesday and enters races. Thousands turn out to run the Race for the Cure in a sea of pink. And there are those of us who run and give support to the cause anyway we can. There was a fellow the other night who wore a pink shirt and pink socks to a meeting.
I wanted to write about this today. Every time I see the happy pink in the store windows, I may smile. But I am also reminded to reflect on the pain, celebrate the courage, and be thankful that my mother lived a long life after her diagnosis and that my wife is still cancer free. My gratitude is overwhelming.