Always a Breast Cancer Patient
BY Brandi Lee Szabo
PUBLISHED July 20, 2016
Editor’s Note: This piece was submitted by a contributing writer and does not represent the views of CURE Media Group.
I’m officially labeled. I’m a breast cancer patient.
I had breast cancer and there isn’t a day that I forget it. My name, demographic information, disease specifics and current status are electronically filed in a computer system for all treating clinicians to see. They know I’m flawed, and I’ll forever be a statistic. I’m the one out of eight women who was diagnosed with the deadly disease. Apparently mine wasn’t genetic, it “just happened.” But, I don’t need a piece of paper or a computer system to remind me of any of this. I live with it daily, even after I’m told I no longer have breast cancer. I see the scars, the missing real breasts, the bright red lines left behind on my skin from the scalpel. I see and feel the instantaneous red flush of my skin with each scorching hot flash from the hysterectomy and oophorectomy that was a preventative move, and I have a mind that can’t help but question itself as a result of all of this.
My new everlasting, negative inner voice reminds me of the deadly disease and I wonder if a rouge cell has taken residency in my body. I look at myself in the mirror and tell myself I’m fine, but hate to believe it, as if it’s a curse to think positively. I worry if I use the words “survivor or warrior” I may jinx myself. Plus, I know I’m a breast cancer patient forever, with or without evidence of disease. I wonder how many other breast cancer patients feel the same way.
Then I distract myself so that I can continue on with my day in hopes of forgetting about cancer, if only for a few hours. The distraction only lasts for a little bit, as societal reminders spark my thoughts again with pink ribbons, shoes, shirts and bracelets to support the cause and create awareness. Really?! There are so many of us walking around bald, some sporting wigs, some without breasts, some hiding themselves in clothes. Some have ports buried beneath the skin of their upper chest or with bruised arms and scars from endless needle pricks. Some are saddened, hopeless and helpless.
Some have a fighting positive spirt like you’ve never seen, and you’re talking and sporting pink things?! A pretty color? To represent cancer awareness with an object such as a pretty ribbon? There is absolutely nothing pretty about this disease. I hate your pink bling and symbolism. If it were my choice and I had to choose a color, I’d choose black. It’s highly associated with death from a few cultural perspectives isn’t it? Cancer kills doesn’t it? Don’t we line up next to the deceased in coffins wearing black? Don’t a lot of the dead wear black? Even better, how about black and blue with a bruised look to it? That would more clearly represent us and the spirit of our family and friends who watch us suffer.
Then my inner positive voice kicks in again and corrects and questions itself. “You’re really angry. You aren’t judgmental and unkind. Why are you bashing their ‘pink?’ They are trying to help, right?”
My mind really doesn’t stay there long. I half-heartedly laugh and think about how many people are making money from the pink symbolism that is really our suffering. Then I think about cultures that celebrate death. I tell myself I’m alive and have no evidence of the disease today but then think again of how so many have succumbed to and died from this disease. When will it be back to get me? I bet it’s already there doing its dirty work.
Then I remind myself that I, too, have work to do. As a clinician, I have patients to see and diagnostic tools to use. I look at their records and remind myself that I help others and it’s a noble profession. I tell myself it’s meaningful, and my mind goes astray again with negative thinking and a peer attempts to cheer me up saying, “You look great. You’d never know you had cancer! It’s over, let it go!”
I think to myself…if you only knew. I look now like I did when they found cancer the first time. Many people with breast cancer look great when they die. Then I realize all they see and know is pink garbage that’s pretty. They haven’t seen the beautiful 20 year olds getting chemotherapy or the aftermath of a mastectomy, reconstructive breast surgery, or witnessed the side effects of chemotherapy. I reminded myself the people saying these things aren’t cancer patients. I tell them, even though my cancer is purportedly gone, that I see my oncologist often. For a year-and-a-half, I’ve seen her once a month to be exact. I’ve just been promoted to once every twelve weeks now. I tell them I have scans often that search for cancer and also can cause another or the same form of cancer. I explain that I have to wait days to hear from my doctor and hope she says, “All clear.”
The truth is that I’ll always be a cancer patient until the day I die. It surely isn’t pretty or pink.