October is a special month. In the span of thirty-one days we commemorate important topics nationwide–domestic violence, LGBT history, ADHD awareness–just to name a few off the list.
The point behind these campaigns is to start a conversation. This month I wanted to begin a conversation involving breast cancer.
The breast cancer awareness movement has been around for quite some time. I remember as a freshman in high school participating in my first “pink rally.” I remember the t-shirts and bracelets that encouraged students to show their pink pride and to “save the boobies!”
Like most of those teenagers, I was shown the surface of the campaign, but once the rally week was over the topic faded into the background amongst the list of things I considered a priority at the time. I had worn my pink. But I remained oblivious to the real cause at hand. Because breast cancer, while I knew it was terrible, had in no way affected my life. It hadn’t touched me. I was completely oblivious. Only bringing out the pink ribbon for that one week in October when the rest of the nation deemed it time to recognize the cause.
Then something changed.
In February 2015, a month into my second semester of college, my mother was diagnosed with stage three breast cancer. A tumor had formed in her right breast, spreading slowly up the armpit into the lymph nodes. It was aggressive but curable.
I’ll never forget the day I found out. It was a Friday at the end of January. I came home for the weekend. I remember sitting in the car talking on and on about a study abroad program I was looking into, my new job, and how wonderful life was going at the time.
My parents had returned from a dinner date with friends–that’s when mom told us she had some news.
I’ve read up on some testimonies from breast cancer patients and their family members. Many of them describe the moment they found out as fast–kind of like a blur.
The moment for me was slow. So slow. My mom tearing up, my younger sister crying, myself crying–It all happened at snail pace.
I started crying. That’s when Mom said to me: “It’s okay to cry. We can cry everyday, we just can’t cry all day.”
Needless to say I broke that rule a few times. That’s when things started to become a blur for me. The rest of the semester was a never ending fog. I cried in the shower. I cried in my room when my roommate wasn’t home. I skipped class when I was left exhausted from the crying and the anger. I was so angry. I was angry at the cancer. I was angry of its audacity to touch her. She deserved better.
I needed her. I don’t need much in life, but I knew that I needed her.
I was angry at myself for crying so much. I wasn’t the one with cancer. I didn’t have to face the toll of chemotherapy. I didn’t have to feel my hair fall out of my head.
I watched as the rest of my family and professionals came together to support my mom. My dad was wonderful. My sisters were so strong. My youngest sister kept the normal moral high, while my older sister went to chemotherapy sessions with Mom. Her oncologist up in Fresno was spectacular to her. Meanwhile, I could barely handle the stupid emotions piled up in my chest. They kept building and building and I wasn’t telling anybody how I was feeling.
I hoped for the best, but I came home every other weekend, because I wanted to spend as much time with her as I could.
Mom and I are pretty close. She was the person I wanted to talk to the most about how I was feeling. But being the over-thinker that I am. I felt selfish. I mean, she had a few things she had to deal with on her own.
At the time I thought I was doing the right thing. I thought I was being strong for her. But it’s my biggest regret to date.
This is where the conversation begins.
On June 29th 2015 she underwent a mastectomy and had 17 lymph nodes removed–3 of which were cancerous. She underwent radiation therapy and by November 2015 she was officially in remission.
I am thankful every day.
I challenged myself to wear a piece of pink clothing every day in the month of October. My goal was to share tips given by professionals on self-examinations and remind the women and men in my life to be proactive. I’d share the stories I’ve read of the many strong women, and their family members, in the hopes to rack up enough courage to write my own.
As I researched tips and stories I found myself fully emerged within the campaign. I had broken beneath the surface. That’s what I hope for all of you.
It doesn’t have to be for breast cancer awareness. Find something that sparks your passion. Find something you strongly believe in. Find something you know nothing about and learn. Emerge yourself.
I wore pink every day for a month. What did I learn? It doesn’t matter. It shouldn’t matter. Because breast cancer awareness doesn’t stop on October 31st. There is no time confinement on such issues. It’s happening now. It’s happening six months from now. We have to talk about it.
I encourage those who have been touched by breast cancer to speak out. Tell others your story. There’s a full community ready to educate, lift up, and support.
For a while when I would think back to that night in January all it sparked was anger. I wore pink to remind myself that I had a right to be angry. But it’s time to grow from it. As my positive younger sister would simply put: I need to remind myself of the silver lining.
I wish for all of you that you’ll find that silver lining.