Sunday, October 11, 2015

Four Months Post-Op & October

Four months today, I'm doing great.  I still have pain, I still have this awkward relationship with my breasts because of how they feel, not because of how they look, and I still thank God and my doctor that I had this amazing gift of life given to me.  But on this anniversary, I focus not on my healing process, but on a greater cause...awareness and action.

In an ideal world, I'd like to think that everyone, all over the world, would have access to understanding their genetics and risks without heavy co-pays.  I'd wish that every woman had access to mammograms when needed, treatment if necessary and education at her fingertips.  My hope would be that every human would already know so much about breast cancer awareness, so that all of the money spent on producing pink items could just go directly to helping women and men get the help they need.  My dream would be that all this money we raise year after year would have found a cure by now, and more importantly, that a majority of the money made it into research/grants/and reduced or free access to care.  In an ideal world.

© Nevit Dilmen [CC BY-SA 3.0 ( via Wikimedia Commons

Every year till now, October approached and I would go into it with a pit in my stomach.  Inevitably, every October, I'd have those who were reminded that I lost my mother at a young age to breast cancer and felt badly, I had those who didn't understand what it was like to be  BRCA1+ for 10 years and not do anything about it and I had those who would just send the "I'm thinking of you" message during the month to let me know they cared.  All perfectly fine in their own ways, but I would get upset inside because I was so conflicted about this month in question.  I had a love/hate relationship with October.  I hated the Facebook secret messages that were hoping to spread awareness because I didn't think it should be secretive, I stayed away from purchasing anything breast cancer pink because it reminded me of pain not happiness, I hated seeing the statistics that so little of funds raised actually made it to where it should go and I wished the month would be over so that I could go on living and sharing my story in my own way, with just as much passion, throughout the whole year, not just in "Pinktober".

I sit here today, four months after my preventive surgery, taking a new turn on life and my own understanding of October.  I've decided it is what you make of it.  Some people love the pink aspect of October, seeking comfort in all of the support and sharing in a larger community beyond themselves.  I'll admit, I love the smiles I see on people's faces in the photos from events, I love my friends who are genuinely fighting for something they are passionate about and I love that the general public pays a little extra attention to an important cause for a month.  I love that voices are heard...or are they?  There are those who still hate October, like I once did, for the commercialism of it all, wondering why we can't just be proactive all year long without the bells and whistles and extra effort during one month of the year.  I have decided that I sit on the wall between both sides now, not really in one court or the other, and here's why.

October Can Be Great...

I lost my mother to breast cancer, and I didn't handle it well.  After her passing, I felt like I had failed as a daughter, as a supporter.  That is when I threw myself into the yearly Susan G. Komen walks and the American Cancer Society's Relays for Life as a way to try and heal.  My friends would join me and I felt like I was doing as much as I could, coming to terms my own way.  I was the one asking for donations each year, putting the sign on my back as a symbol for who I was walking for and feeling like I was making up for time I'd spent in the wrong way.  I'd wear the pink ribbon given to me because I was proud to represent my mother and grandmother in any way that I could.  I'd cry at some point in each event, missing them terribly, and feel comforted that others around me were feeling the same.  But there were always things missing.

While I thought I was doing good for others and trying to love the community spirit that these events brought, I was at the same time ignoring myself.  Never once during those years did I stop and ask about my own health and risks.  Yes, I knew there was something going on in my family that made my future look questionable, but during the ages of 13-25, I never pursued any of the many services offered to someone like me, because I didn't know I had a gene I had to worry about.  Here I was, supporting breast cancer "awareness", but it wasn't hitting home because there wasn't specific information to me, to my situation.  Where was my action?  A month dedicated to helping people gain access, information and support, and I was solely looking at it as a way to deal with my mother's passing.  I then began to think...if there's so much awareness, year after year, then why was my mother passed up for an elective mastectomy and reconstruction when she asked?  Where's the actual education?  October needs to change...we can't isolate Breast Cancer into October.

But So Can the Rest of the Year!

On the flip side, four months ago I had my surgery and I blogged my way through it all.  I never realized how powerful my voice could be.  Here I thought Angelina had taken care of all the hard work, bringing awareness of BRCA to the masses, but I quickly realized...MANY never even heard her story.  Was MY little voice helping to  bring awareness to someone via my blog, my book and now, in the month of October, my article for  Yes, it was.  I meet people weekly who have never heard of BRCA and I'm shocked.  I realize that not everyone attends an October event, nor follows Hollywood news, especially in different parts of the world.  A woman, just this last week, made a comment about all the pink around and I told her it was for breast cancer awareness month...she had no clue.  For the past year leading up to my surgery, I was the one educating people around me without the pink accessories and fundraisers.  I enjoy telling my story, helping other women understand their genetics, their options and especially how to deal with it all as a mother.  During eleven other months, people still need to be educated.  There will always be someone who just doesn't know, and I'm so happy when they cross my path.

So, here I am, coming to terms with my own understanding of the month of October.  I appreciate those who love it, share in it and find hope through the communities and organizations spreading the word.  I also appreciate those who don't like it for whatever their reasons are.  I now realize that my October doesn't have to be filled with sadness, anger and resentment.  My October is now a time to reflect on my journey and how I decided to change my life's path.  My October is now a time to be there for anyone who needs an ear or a shoulder or some guiding information.  My October will be for advocating about testing, breast reconstruction options and pushing people to listen.  But the rest of the year will also be the same, filled with the same passion as my now October.

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