Thursday, October 14, 2010

Breast cancer awareness

Everywhere I go in town there are shop windows with pink lettering and pink themes.  It is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  The explosion of pink makes me smile.  In one shop window, there are dozens of pink bras with the names of breast cancer survivors written on them.  This really brings things into perspective.

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.


  1. cancer has touched my fam as well...though not breast cancer...seing anyone that is a survivor is inspiring and i pray fervently that one day we will find a cure..

  2. Thank you for sharing that with us, Syd. I had no idea that your mother AND your wife have had the disease. My ex-husband is in the same boat- his mother died of it, his wife got it too. She is fine now but still...
    Cancer touches us all.
    It is good to talk about it.
    I hope your wife continues to be in remission. Forever.

  3. Cancer has touched so many people in my family. All of my uncles have it, and both my grandmothers. My mom had something, but I don't know if it was cancer or not.

    I turn 40 next year and I will be getting my mammogram just to be sure. I believe in early detection, and I hope that if breast cancer is my fate, that I can beat it as well.

  4. At least there is more awareness of breast cancer now. It is not pretty as you say. My mother had one breast removed and seven years later the other one, two different types of cancer. You wrote a very good post about this important subject.

  5. I am grateful to live in an age where women's health is out in the open, research is done, and people are talking, sharing and acting to make sure no one is alone.


  6. I hope for the cure one day so stories like yours won't need to be repeated! You do know your mother was just being a good mom, sheilding you from what riddled her, right? That's just what momma's do isn't it? I'm happy to hear your wife is with us today. It is amazing the odds now vs even 10 years ago. So many more beating it daily. And yet, still some get called to the other side.

    I am having a special giveaway this month for this very cause. If you would like to put your name in and maybe win it for your wife or someone else you may know touched by this disease.

  7. I am hoping for us to become preventative of cancer, one day, to know the risk factors, and to know how to drive cancer away without the knife. Until then, I am so glad that people find fellowship with others who are struggling with diagnoses, treatment and side effects.

    My husband had his prostate cancer diagnosis, during the first month of our son's birth. Our little world was forever changed in the ensuing months. The surgery, the time healing, and... the side effects.... follow-up radiation. It makes us glad for life, glad we have our son... it was having a newborn that made my husband decide to undergo the treatments... so he would be able to see our son grow up. That was eleven years ago now.... almost twelve.

    Thanks for reminding me to be grateful as well, Syd!

  8. When a good friend found a lump in her breast, she came to the meeting, and spoke of her fears, and we all wept with her. Today, after surgery, radiation and chemo, she is healthy again. But as she said, she will never be the same person she was before her diagnosis.
    Bless you and your wife, Syd, and may you have each other, well into old age.

  9. 2 women inmy al-anon here have breast cancer. One had dbl mastectomy and ir recovering well. The other a single, and not so well.

    Bless your C for fighting thru the battle and bless you for writing about it. Awareness is critical!

  10. I didn't know C. and your mom had breast cancer. I'm so glad their outcomes were good.

    Nice, thoughtful post, buddy.

    Have a great weekend!

  11. Very glad your wife is still cancer-free.

    In my second book I wrote about a young woman diagnosed at 30 with an aggressive breast cancer... She lived eight more years, and had many adventures in that time. Even those who ultimately do not survive inspire me...

    Also need to say: breast cancer gets a great deal of press, but it's actually lung cancer that kills the most women. Lung cancer patients are blamed for their cancers, and this cancer has a stigma that prevents people from getting help. Most of all, people need to stop smoking.

    thanks for your compassion.

  12. Your post hits close to home. My wife has early stage breast cancer and will have a mastectomy next month. Just this evening she was telling me that all this Breast Cancer Awareness stuff that is around makes her a bit uncomfortable, because in spite of it all having cancer still s*cks and she is still very angry at having to loose part of her anatomy

  13. Thanks for this entry, Syd. My own mother had a radical mastectomy when I was just a child. That would be back in about the mid 40's and it was an entirely different ball game then. I do remember her resilience though and have always admired her for that.

  14. This is good insight to hear of your experience with breast cancer. As it is always with you, more is revealed and your compassion shines. thank you. I'm touched by this.


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