I hate October now. I don’t even like the color pink anymore. I get cranky in the last days of September when I start seeing everything from toilet paper to staplers colored pink and sporting a pink ribbon. It’s not that I don’t want attention called to the disease that affects so many people including me; it’s more that I think the focus has gotten misplaced. I don’t support Susan G. Komen Foundation anymore; I think they have lost their way. There is good research going on in many places, but I have come to question the line between commerce and research with Komen’s support of everything from Kentucky Fried Chicken to alcoholic beverages to its own perfume while simultaneously trying to prevent anyone else from using the phrase “For the Cure” (see my post on why I divorced the Komen Foundation years ago here). What happened to thinking we are all in this together, trying to achieve the same goals?
When I originally wrote it I tried to think about awareness and what it means to me. I wanted to explain why pink ribbons didn’t mean awareness; I wanted to capture the emotional side of this disease. I re-post it every year. Now, with my new diagnosis of metastatic breast cancer, it’s time to share it again.
I wish I had the energy of my youth.
I wish I had the body.
I wish I had the fearlessness, the spunk, the drive.
I wish I could have a conversation with that young girl,
bright-eyed and full of wonder.
I wish I could tell her what lay ahead.
I wish I could tell her to gather strength, and wisdom, and patience like a squirrel gathering acorns for the winter.
“Save those things up,” I’d say, “you are going to need them… every last bit.”
I wish I could share the perspective I’ve gained along with all of the love.
But I can’t go back to that time,
I can’t go back to that place.
I can’t rewrite what’s happened,
I can’t do it all again.
I guess I must have done something right along the way for when it came time to fight I did,
and I did it well.
But that struggle took its toll on me and I am quite sure I will never, ever be the same.
You tell yourself “they’re only breasts.”
You say, “I don’t need ovaries, I’m done having children.”
But that obscures the truth.
The truth is that it does matter,
they do matter.
They say my uterus is atrophied.
It almost sounds funny when you say it.
“Who cares? What does that matter?”
It does. It does. It does.
To get rid of all hormones gives me a better chance at avoiding a recurrence, but there is a price to be paid.
No estrogen matters more than I ever thought it could.
It feels worse than taking injections to suppress my ovaries, worse than taking Tamoxifen. Those were easy. I had no clue what was ahead.
I wear the skirt, I put the makeup on, I walk the walk.
But I do not feel like a woman anymore.
I’m proud of what this body has done for me:
3 beautiful children,
healing the broken bones, the infections, the autoimmune diseases.
There is no week without migraines,
no cold winter day without icy implants.
Beneath the pretty lies ugly,
the ugly truth of cancer
and what it has taken from me.
While some may be able to go on,
My body will not let me.
These things are not tied with a pink ribbon.
These things last longer than a month.
This is part of awareness.
This is part of what breast cancer can do.
This is what it has done to me.