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