In all honesty, Breast Cancer Awareness month can provoke some emotions out of me. The whole breast cancer scene has a lot of money; more money than my cancer and your cancer and sadly, childhood cancer. Why does everything turn pink in October (and throughout the year it seems)? Don’t we count? Didn’t we have cancer, too? It’s just our color doesn’t happen to be pink.
I watch a T.V. show called Parenthood. It’s a pretty good drama portraying the relational ins and outs of a large family living in Berkeley, California and the San Francisco bay area. This season started two weeks ago. At the end of the first episode, tears were running down my cheeks. You see, Kristina was diagnosed with breast cancer. How she received the news was depicted authentically, perfectly, beautifully and emotionally. The scene was silent. This scene made breast cancer my cancer. I felt Kristina’s fear and I felt their pain. It doesn’t matter what kind of cancer you are diagnosed with, we all share the same fear and the same pain.
Hearing the statement, “You have cancer” is wrenching. The knee jerk reaction is to scream, long and silently in your head. Then a flood of thoughts follow like, “This happens to other people, not me!” Or, “How can this be? I take real good care of myself!” Next comes the fear and then all of the questions. So much happens within that one statement, so much happens instantaneously. Lastly, a kind of numbness envelopes you as you go through the next motions (and I think it is a slow motion kind of a happening).
The majority of women I know who have cancer are breast cancer survivors. In both my cancer support groups, the breast cancer survivors out number us by two to one, sometimes more. Their concerns are as real as mine, maybe more so because breast cancer is always in their face with all of the awareness promotion and services offered. So many of these women have had some kind of surgery, from lymph nodes removed for biopsy and precaution to a double mastectomy and reconstruction. As they share among themselves I hear a sadness in their voices as they accept their new body and their redefined “womanhood”.
There seems to be as many different kinds of breast cancer as there are of lymphoma. When a woman says she has breast cancer that is just the umbrella title and somewhere underneath is her type of breast cancer. I have heard terms like ductal carcinoma and lobular carcinoma, ER-positive and HER2-positive. They know their cancer language, I am the one who is in the dark when they talk. And then they have their specific type of chemotherapy and/or radiation.
Every cancer is so different and one can not be compared to the other. Our cancer similarities are the overwhelm, the uncertainty, the hope, forever the hope. We share the nausea and sickness, low blood counts, hair loss and fatigue. The questions are the same, too. Did I chose the right doctor? Is this the correct protocol? Will I go into remission? What are the statistics for a long life? And the forever cloud, will it come back?
So, yes, it is Breast Cancer Awareness month. And, yes, everything is popping up pink. But really in the end, our colors don’t matter, our experiences are our common bond.
When Kristina wordlessly looked at her husband, Adam, I knew what she was saying. When he held her tight, I knew what that felt like. When he told her to not look on the internet for information, I heard the same advice. When he is perpetually positive and she says she is scared, I know that, too.
Yes, cancer is cancer. Pink. Lime green. Teal. Orange. Purple. White. . . .