October always has been special to me. Fall is in full swing, with its cooler, crisper temperatures, resplendent colors, and warmer, cozier clothing. I love everything fall.
It also happens to be the month of celebrations. In addition to Halloween, this is the month in which I celebrate the birthdays of my parents and many dear friends. There is so much to celebrate, but six years ago, an uninvited guest crashed the party.
On October 20, 2015, I heard the words that I never wanted to hear and that I, now, never will forget. I am so sorry. You have breast cancer. Six years later, that moment still is so surreal. Physically, I remain cancer free and look healthy and normal, except for the scar on my left breast and under my left armpit and the small blue radiation markers that dot my chest area. Emotionally, I find myself still learning how to navigate the emotional minefield that October has become.
In addition to being the anniversary of my diagnosis and the birthday month of my sweet friend who died of breast cancer eight months after my diagnosis, it is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. As I have discussed in previous blog posts, I have an uneasy relationship with pink ribbons and strong thoughts and feelings about the pink washing of this horrible disease. Six years in, those pink ribbons have become akin to a red cape being waved in front of a bull.
In an almost Pavlovian response to the pink ribbons, my anxiety level began to intensify as October commenced. At first, I was not sure what could be triggering this anxiety, as everything really is okay. So, what triggered this anxiety?
It was not until I read a New York Times article, For Some Breast Cancer Survivors, October is the Cruelest Month, that things began to make sense. There are reminders everywhere of a time when I was overwhelmed with fear and paralyzing anxiety, in addition to the guilt that I survived the disease that took the life of my friend and continues to erode the lives of so many others who are living with this diagnosis.
While I firmly believe that knowledge is power and have willingly shared my breast cancer story with others, sometimes, information can become overwhelming. Math is my nemesis, and there is one statistic in particular that haunts me. Between twenty and thirty percent of patients diagnosed with Stage I, II, or III breast cancer develop metastatic breast cancer down the road. Logically, I know that the odds appear to be on my side, but I also know that breast cancer does not care about numbers. It strikes indiscriminately.
In addition to concerns of a recurrence, the medication that I initially took to reduce my chances of the breast cancer returning slightly increased the risk of developing endometrial cancer. Thankfully, my OB/GYN began doing annual endometrial biopsies and ultrasounds to monitor this situation, and when last month’s tests caused some concern, she was on top of it.
I found myself in the familiar position for waiting for a phone call to tell me whether or not I had cancer. Tom Petty had it right when he sang, the waiting is the hardest part. When the results finally became available, I shed tears of joy and relief when I learned that this time, I did not have cancer. That said, I will be marking my six year cancerversary by attending a pre-op appointment for the outpatient surgery that I am having two days from now, to resolve this latest health concern and, hopefully, to keep me cancer free.
October remains special to me, but it certainly is bittersweet. I am so very grateful that I am still here, and I am unbelievably sorry that Michelle is not and that others are fighting much harder battles than I faced. I hope to see a day when we untie the pink ribbons and that the predominant color of October reverts from pink back to orange.
That’s another story . . .
Categories: That's Another Story