October. The month conjures up pictures of turkey and pumpkin pie, as well as candy and goblins.
But for some of us, we see pink.
October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, with the Run for the Cure and other fund raising activities to support breast cancer research, support and education.
I was 39 when I was first diagnosed with breast cancer. I had two young children and at that time, no known history of the disease in my family. My mother was later diagnosed.
Denial was my coping mechanism. At times it felt like an out of body experience as I went through the surgery, radiation and chemo. I chose to carry on working as I wanted my life to be as normal as possible and truth be, I just didn’t want to be sitting at home with time on my hands to think; to think that I might not make it.
And I definitely didn’t want a pity party.
Some friends couldn’t deal with it, but I decided that had to be their problem, not mine. Other women, acquaintances really, amazed me with their acts of kindness. One neighbour, for example, cooked dinners for my family on the days I had chemo.
It wasn’t all bad either, as it makes you focus on what’s important and I changed from being a couch potato to taking charge of my health and exercising on a regular basis.
But you can imagine my shock when, 15 years later, I discovered the cancer was back. I had forgotten that once you are a member of the cancer club, your membership never really expires.
This time the solution was easy. I had a double mastectomy. As I joked with friends, I wanted a level playing field. I chose not to get reconstructive surgery. Enough is enough. So we had the big family discussion on whether my prosthesis should come with nipples or not. Even my son-in-law weighed in on this oneJ
Actually I relied on my sense of humour to get through it all. Case in point, I wanted to speak out about what was happening to me, so other women would go and get that mammogram they’d been putting off. So at one of my events, in front of over 60 women, I stood up and shared my story. “I want to be upfront about what is happening to me. I want to make a clean breast of it all.”
Those comments brought laughter, mingled with tears as the women took in my news. But as I said then, and I say now… I wasn’t ready to check out. It was highly inconvenient as I had lots I wanted to do. And I still have.
It’s been 25 years now since that first diagnosis. I’m a success story – a poster girl for breast cancer survivors – or thrivers as we prefer to be known. I am grateful for every year, month and day I have lived since then.