Monday, October 25, 2010

I Think the Month Doesn't Matter

Here's the backstory.  Not long before we began planning my wedding my mom was diagnosed with stage 4 breast cancer and they told her... or she told me, or I told myself.  I was never really sure about that one but it doesn't matter what really happened, what matters is what I think happened... they told her, go with your daughter and plan this wedding in case you're not there next year when she gets married.  Suck.  So we did.  But then she was.  And it's 13 years later and my mom is still here.

The novelist Joan Didion is quoted, "I write to find out what I think."  Well I'm writing and here's what I think...and apparently I had so much unresolved thinking about this particular issue that it spilled out of me like a torrent and I've had to go back and do some editing.  Of words that were misspelled in my rush, of words that were more harsh than they really needed to be, of words that were more flying off the handle than helping me to get a grip.

Back to what I think...

I think October is a nice month to celebrate Fall foliage and Veteran's Day and Halloween and Polish American history.  And it's as good a month as any to shine a laser beam of focus on Breast Cancer Awareness...but the month doesn't matter I'm always aware.  Always aware.

I think I'm so glad that the experts finally stopped recommending that young women do monthly self breast exams.  But I'm not happy for the reason you think.  I'm happy because now I can stop lying to my mother about doing them in the first place.  Nope.  Never did one.  Not one.  Hung the cute pink card in my shower about how to do it and never did one.  Thanks, team of doctors for doing the research that lets me off the hook.  Sorry mom, for lying to you...about this. 

I think the term survivor sucks.  If you're the survivor of a train wreck, once the mass of twisted metal has come to a halt and you have walked away from the wreckage, you can safely call yourself a survivor.  It's over.  You made it.  Breast Cancer survival?  Not so much.  It's like this creeper in the shadow that stalks you your entire life...or at least when you "survive" stage 4 breast cancer that's how it is.  You can walk away from the wreckage of surgery, be clean for years and then get the same cancer again.  Or a different type.  How in the hell is that survival?  The only way to be a breast cancer survivor is to die of something else.  I think I'm missing the point of why they call them survivors.  The National Cancer Institute's website states, "a person is considered to be a survivor, from the time of diagnosis until the end of life." I think that makes about as much sense as declaring victory before you fight the war.  Certainly the term survivor is better than victim, but c'mon.  Really?  Those 40,000 women who will die of breast cancer this year...they're survivors?  No.  I don't think so.  I think they're victims.

I think a girl ought to be able to eat yogurt, or buy batteries, or shop for used furniture on craigslist or do any number of ordinary things without having to be stalked by that (sorry, I think I'm angry) fucking pink ribbon.  No, I get it.  Believe me.  Susan Komen's sister has done an extraordinary thing by marketing this cause and raising awareness and stimulating the research and driving the funding.  Extraordinary.  The pink wine and the pink Kitchen Aid mixer and the pink Nike sneakers.  Unprecedented.  But for me, all the pink stuff is tainted now.  I'm aware.  I get it.  It plagues me that my mom is a survivor and sometimes I'd just like to eat my fat free, high protein, double strained Greek yogurt in peace without thinking about prosthesis and surgical drains and tamoxifen and what the hell my father would ever do if he was expected to survive losing his breast cancer survivor of a wife.

I think I'm angry about a lot of this still.

I think it's ok to be angry.

I think October is as good a month as any other month for everyone else to be aware.

I think I'll always be aware.

I think I like pink.  But I liked it before.

I think surviving breast cancer is the middle, not the end.

I think I love my mom and I'm glad she's still here.

I think that's what I think.


  1. Hear. Hear.

    As the daughter of a mother who didn't "survive" I have a lot of the same issues.

    I don't want to feel guilty for choosing yellow instead of pink.

    Pink is tainted. It's the 30 year later dilution of the blood spilled and lost when I lost her.

    I don't need "reminders".
    I'm reminded every day.

    But I'll buy to send money for more research.

    What's the ribbon color for mothers of young children losing their minds? We need more research for that!


  2. Well, I've been living in the "pink" for 13 years now, and it's a mighty good place to be. Do I have some anger now and then? bet I do. But the word survivor brings tears to my eyes when I attend one of the functions beause far too may of my "sisters' haven't. So I have a ribbon on my car and a gratitude in my heart that truely only a "SURVIVOR" can understand. As a mother of 2 daughters and grandmother of 3 little precious girls, I loved it that they lit the White House pink...and they can splash it anywhere else they want if it means one day the women in my life won't have to fear breast cancer at all. If it happens there'll be an advanced "cure'"like I had with less side effects and physical and emotional pain. I never tell anyone what to think about breast's an indidual thing, but I can tell you it's not the worse thing that can happen to you. I remain GG...Grateful Gramma

  3. Nancy , thank you for posting this comment. There's so much in my heart about October, first and always because I lost my mother to breast cancer on Halloween, 20 years ago. But then to have this pink shit rubbed like salt in the wound the entire month before the anniversary makes it gadzillions of times worse. As you said, like we could ever forget? My siblings understand but to have someone else speak this out loud is so comforting, that we aren't the only ones to resent the whole pink campaign crap thing.

  4. Well I’ve been “in the middle” for 22 years now. Could it come back? Sure. But I rarely think about that happening. There are just too many other things to think about. And you can interpret that any old way you choose! I’m still a grateful gramma and I wear pink all month because it’s something I can do!