Monday, October 18, 2010

Breast Cancer Awareness Month

(This post was originally published in October 2009, the 25th anniversary of NBCA month, but the message and the stories remain the same. The first nine comments are from that original post, and I included them because of the "conversation" between myself and my husband's niece, Wendy, regarding her mother Sandy, who died of breast cancer.)


October is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. It's a call for us to recognize that we need to be vigilant in our attempts at early detection through self examination and regular mammograms, to bring attention to the need for improved testing and treatment, and to honor those of our ranks - family, friends, and strangers alike - who have battled and survived... and battled and lost.

My life has been touched by the breast cancer diagnosis of four women:


This lovely lady, above, is my stepmother, Ferne. She came into my life as the third wife of my dad, and she was the mother that I had always wished I had had growing up. If I were to be asked to use just a few words to describe her, it would be sweet, loving, soft spoken. I only saw her once a year after the first few years of their marriage, but she never failed to treat me as a treasured member of her family. She had her first diagnosis of breast cancer in, I think, 1987. (I say I think because they didn't tell me that she had or was going to have a masectomy, because they didn't want me to worry long distance. Of course, I took umbrage with that, telling them that, instead, it made me feel out of the loop, but that's another story.) I actually am totally ignorant of her treatment, don't know if she had chemo or radiation or anything, that's how far out of the loop I was.

In the spring of 1993, it was found that Ferne's cancer had metasticized to the brain. By July I was in Texas sitting by her side 24 hours a day so that my dad could get away from the hospital for a bit, and it was then that I saw, for the first time, what a chest with the puckered scars of a double masectomy looked like. In October she died, and I think she was 73. But look at the statistic there ... she survived, and lived well, in the six or more years after the original diagnosis. She was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother.

This smiling lady is Sandy, my sister-in-law. She was one of the funniest people I've ever known, and the most talkative! She was known for her talking, her easy laugh, her love of sewing/decorating/crafts, her kindness, and her clutter! She would much rather be doing crafts with her kids than keeping house, and she was a wonderful mother to her four children, though she didn't always have an easy time of it. Once again, we were not around to see how she lived her life with cancer. I couldn't even tell you when she was first diagnosed or if she had chemo or radiation (although I'm thinking she didn't). She did not have an easy time of it, but she lived her last years to their fullest and on a journey of self-discovery. She died at the home of her mother in March 1997. We had called her that night as we hadn't talked to her for a while, and had been told that she wasn't doing well. Her brother Corey answered and said he'd take her the phone... then he came back on the phone and said: "She just died". You never know when the last time you talk to someone will be the last time you talk to that someone. Sandy was 50 years old, a daughter, sister, divorcee, mother, and she did not live to see her two beautiful grandbabies, Joey and Kam.

This blurry lady with the Tweety shirt is Charla, the wife of my husband's cousin. This photo was taken when they came to visit us here in Georgia from Colorado. We had the best time. She was truly a lovely lovely person, and we discovered, she and I, that if we lived closer, like we had for many years but didn't know each other, we would probably have been best friends. We talked so easily, shared secrets even. Within a year of this photo, Charla would be diagnosed with breast cancer. We saw her in Colorado a few years later for a family reunion, and she was a mere skeleton, and I hardly recognized her. I asked her what it felt like, what did she think and feel, knowing that all treatments had failed in this very aggressive form of the disease, and she said she had no choice but to take each day as it came, and took what joy from it that she could. She died at the age of fifty-seven in August 2007. She was a daughter, sister, wife, mother, grandmother.

Delores is the wife of my step-brother. I don't have dates here, but she was diagnosed with cancer maybe ten or so years ago, and had a masectomy, chemo, and radiation. She's had several scares in the years since, but it appears that she is currently cancer free.

There will be many activities this month in recognition of breast cancer awareness, on small and large scales, in schools, churches, communities, and cities. If you get a chance to participate in some way, please do. If you don't want to 'walk', then maybe you could just do an extra donation for research and free mammograms this month, or remind a friend, sister or mother to do a self-exam or get a mammogram. Or make an appointment to get one yourself.

"When you do nothing, you feel overwhelmed and powerless. But when you get involved, you feel the sense of hope and accomplishment that comes from knowing you are working to make things better. ” Maya Angelou

29 comments:

Ginger said...

That's a great tribute to your relatives. You sure have been touch by breast cancer!! My mom had breast cancer at age 80. She had a masectomy and lived 6 years after that. She didn't die from anything related to it.
My daughter's sister-in-law just had a double masectomy and chemo. she is in her 40's. It's a terrible disease.

Wendy said...

Don't you love that picture of my mom? No, she didn't have chemo or radiation, just the mastectomy. A friend of ours was diagnosed at just about the same time as my mom, she did all the treatments and she died within months of my mom. It's hard to know what to do.

Also, I'd like to suggest that all of you write to your doctors and insurance companies and ask that they provide an alternative to mammograms... thermography.

Wander to the Wayside said...

Wendy, I guess I do remember how stunned David and I were that she didn't want treatment. I think we were told that she wanted to try 'alternative' treatments', and we thought it was Sandy being 'wacky' with herbs and voodoo stuff (no offense intended-that was a time when snake oil was thought to cure ms, so that's what we were thinking was in her mind). But being so far away, the news we got was sometimes far enough after the fact that there was a time warp or time delay for us. And when you don't have the message first hand or time relavent, you forget the finer details. Was she diagnosed late and they knew right off the bat that treatment would poison the quality of her remaining months/years? And isn't it funny that we're still talking about it twelve years later?

Therein lies the inigma, apparently...to treat or not to treat, that is the question. Does it mostly have something to do with how early it's detected as to what kind of treatment you get-or want to get? I think we assume that we know what we would do, but unless it is our story we won't really know.

(I forgot to mention that Sandy was also known for being late, so much so that if something was a 2:00 we told her to be there at 1:00!)

glnroz said...

Thnx for this post. Last summer One of my nieces pasted away (48). A lot of people talk about this demon but being "aware" is a must. Thnx again

Wendy said...

I'll never really know all of her reasons for her choices. I know that the thought of going through chemo and radiation and being that sick and miserable was a choice she didn't want to make. I know that neither of her parents supported that decision. I know that was the reason that she gave me power of attorney when she had the surgery; she knew that although I disagreed with her that I respected her right to choose for herself.

I think her problem was that when she talked to the doctors about ANY type of alternative treatment (including eating better) that they responded like she was a gullible wack-job. So she simply stopped talking to them. Fortunately, today many doctors are aware that lifestyle changes and healthy attitudes can do a lot to help outcomes. I wish both her and her doctors hadn't have been so pigheaded. But, like with our friend's example, there's no guarantee that she would have survived anyway.

Ron said...

Great Tribute to your friend and family! Breast Cancer is a battle that can be won--and I truly believe that awareness is vital. Thank you for sharing the stories of these wonderful women!

Midlife Jobhunter said...

Great post. We never know how cancer will affect us, or others. You certainly have been touched quite a great deal.

My yearly mammogram is scheduled for next week. Too many women put it off. No reason for that. Easy test.

Missy said...

Great post, Linda. So many women are lost to breast cancer every year. Your post was a very touching tribute to those that you have known with cancer and I think it is awesome, and eye-opening. I, too, lost a dear friend to breast cancer 12 years ago. It has made me more vigilant about my self-checking and yearly mammograms.

laurie said...

thank you for noting that breast cancer isn't necessarily a death sentence. i lost my beloved sister to breast cancer, but my beloved sister-in-law has been cancer-free for three years now after a double mastectomy.

Oz Girl said...

Such a tribute to these wonderful women in your life, yet so sad they have been lost to such a devastating disease. It does make you wonder sometimes - does treatment sometimes accelerate a disease's progress? It's hard to say I guess.

Nezzy said...

What a lovin' tribute to the memory of those lost and livin' with breast cancer. It certainly has touched your life in a dramatic way. I commend you for gettin' the word out, lives can be saved here.

Cancer is such a horrific disease I just lost my Daddy to leukemia after the cancer had invaded his brain, soooo hard.

God bless you sweetie and have the most magnificent 'fall' day!!! :o)

glnroz said...

thanx,for the REpost, there can never bee too much awareness of this thing.. glenn

Donna B said...

I remember this post from last year. Such a beautiful tribute to those special women. I too have been touched and appreciate you keeping the word and reminders out there.

Rose said...

My heart goes out to you and to the families of these women. most of them so young when they died. I haven't known any women with cancer and hope i don't it's a terrible disease. your comment on my post was great. you are brave. i wouldn't pick up a dead snake. How brave. have a good evening. rose

Bernie said...

Linda, I hate cancer.....I get angry when I loose another friend to this horrid disease. I too have had a masectomy, chemo and radiation. I live with the uncertainty of growing hot spots on my spine. If God forbids they do grow I will take surgery, radiation or the pills but will never go through the IV chemo again. What will be will be.
Love that you remembered the women who were such an important part of your life....have a great weekend.
........:-) Hugs

Rose said...

good monday, read your comment re childhood. yes, you are right grabdchildren can make you feel like a child. it's good to let loose. rose

Donna said...

Linda, don't know how I missed this post..just busy, I guess,....but it is such an important one. My Grandmother had breat cancer when she was only 35 but lived a long life and did well. My mother had it 11 years before it metasticised and she died 5 years ago at 77. They were the most wonderful people I will ever know and I miss them every day. I think that this disease is something that I will probably have too, so it's scarey and I certainly have yearly testing and teach my daughter the same. Great post and thankyou for commenting on mine!!

kobico said...

I missed this post in my feed reader, as well. Thank you for re-posting it. I admit to not having taken the time to having a mammogram back when I was working, and now I have other expenses that take precedence. But this is definitely food for thought.

Donna B said...

I miss you posting...I may not always comment, but I miss you. Hope all is well...I hope you are not having any of that hurricane weather!!

glnroz said...

COME OUT,, Where have you been hiding.. Have you been doinng OK?

Ginger said...

This is a post worth repeating. Breast cancer is so devestating. I wish they could find a cure for all cancers.

ethelmaepotter! said...

Thank you so much for posting not only about breast cancer, but also very personal stories of the women you've lost to it. I almost feel guilty because I read this the day after I get the results of my 2 1/2 year ct scan - not breast, but kidney cancer - and so far, so good, which means I'm halfway to being cancer free. I so wish you could have said that about these ladies.

Thanks for a lovely heartfelt post.

Murr Brewster said...

Nice post. I lost my mother to it. And you reminded me to make an appointment to get my own mammogram. I flat forgot.

Donna B said...

Where are you? I miss your posts...hugs to you. I know the holidays make us all crazy and no doubt you are very busy...as you always are...

lakeviewer said...

Just wondering how you are. Happy Holidays.

Rose said...

Cancer its such a horrible desease.. It affects everyone of us. Its nice to read this kinds of posts, about positive people, its important because it gives you more streingh.

glnroz said...

where and how have you been? You doing OK?

glnroz said...

Merry Christmas,, and let us hear from you...

Bernie said...

Cancer is a horrible disease. I too have had it several times but so far no chemo and for that I am grateful and also enjoy not having to wear a bra most of the time!!!

Cancer seems to be like Portia's gentle rain that falleth on the rich and poor alike. But it does seem to rain on some families more than others,too.