The leaves are falling and it’s that time of year again, when all colors turn to pink. Wait. What? Yes, pink. It’s been on the NFL, Kentucky Fried Chicken buckets, yogurt lids, socks, even on our own local football and soccer fields (some MCSL referees wear pink uniforms). All in honor of Breast Cancer Awareness Month in October. I’m not really sure any of this has a lasting effect, but it seems to be “cool” to show your pride for breast cancer.
I didn’t think much of any of it, really, until I was diagnosed. One October day last year, I faithfully went to get my mammogram, expecting it to be routine and over with fairly quickly. It was not to be. After a couple more, I was sent to an oncologist, who ordered more tests, including a breast MRI. Through those next several weeks, I was positive I did not have cancer. As a matter of fact, I was a bit annoyed and a little angry that I was having to go through all this hoopla when I knew that it would turn out to be nothing. I even tossed around the idea of not going back to the doctor. Of course, my husband would hear nothing of that, and even went with me to the oncologist’s visit (against my wishes) where I would learn the results. I told few people what I was dealing with, and those that I did mention it to, I assured them that it was not going to be breast cancer.
I had no symptoms and no visible signs of a lump. So when my wonderfully kind and compassionate oncologist broke the news that I did have Stage 0 (yes, there is such a thing) breast cancer, I was in no way prepared to hear that. I was glad that my husband was there. Maybe I was still in denial, and a little more angry that I would have to go through surgery and radiation treatment for something that I couldn’t feel, wasn’t making me sick and didn’t even register as a number on the stage scale! Stage 0 is when cancer cells remain inside the breast duct, without invasion into normal adjacent breast tissue.
In my mind, I had more pressing trials in my life and didn’t want or ask for this. I also felt guilty. Really guilty. Do you know how many women suffer horribly from breast cancer each year?
About 1 in 8 U.S. women (about 12%) will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime, according to statistics from the U.S. Breast Cancer website. They go through grueling chemotherapy treatments, lose their hair, and some even lose their breasts. They are the ones that are the true survivors and deserve the empathy and recognition from the public. I was not worthy to be in their ranks.
I did relent to surgery and radiation treatment. Because the cancer I had was so tiny and detected extremely early, the radiation I received was short — 5 days straight, twice a day. Though it was small, it was serious. I made plans to be off work, and between my husband and good friends, had my children taken care of for a few days. I was blessed to be able to stay at the American Cancer Society’s Hope Lodge, free of charge, because I lived so far away from Nashville. What a wonderful place that I had never heard of before! Very similar to a hotel, the Hope Lodge is equipped with laundry facilities, reading rooms, family-like rooms with games and TVs, and even an exercise room.
My time at the Hope Lodge was spent exercising, reading, writing and relaxing in between treatments. My husband visited at night and even brought the kids one day. If I hadn’t received radiation, it would have felt more like a vacation.
My radiation was painless, just time-consuming, and luckily for me, I got to pass a Krispy Kreme Doughnut shop every morning!
Right before my surgery I told most of my friends and received the “OH MY GOSH YOU HAVE CANCER” treatment. I tried to explain that they should not be concerned, but most wouldn’t hear of it. Many wrote me encouraging messages through Facebook, texts and calls. My close co-workers even got me the most thoughtful care package for my stay at the Hope Lodge. I’m not going to lie…I did appreciate the attention, but once again…I felt guilty.
One of the things I’ve come to realize through all this, though, is that I’m thankful and grateful for the many blessings in my life. I’m not going to list them here, for that would take too much space. I’m also very thankful for those true survivors. The women who have suffered and survived have made early detection possible for all women.
So, let the pink wave begin. When I wear it, I still feel a little guilty, but I feel more proud. Proud for the ones that have gone before me and made significant gains in research and early detection possible. Proud that my daughter will not have to play a guessing game with her health. She will know the risk factors and will be able to get screenings. Proud that there are more survivors than ever of this dreaded disease.