Beyond October: What's Next for Breast Cancer Survivors?

The party is over. Now what?

I’m a male breast cancer survivor, but that didn’t prevent me from celebrating with the purpose and intentions behind the month-long feminine festival sometimes known as “Pinktober.” In fact, since most women are pretty well tuned in to the breast cancer threat, I am particularly enthused by the prospect of getting the word out to the men of the world that guys get breast cancer, too. I also support the idea of creating a similar organized awareness platform for men.

But when November rolls in, we feel the chill of autumn as we know it, and the October pink events slip away without much residual fanfare.

As a long-time competitive runner, all of this reminds me of the races I ran for so many years. A marathon requires months of preparation to properly prepare for the mental test of the grueling 26 miles, along with the physical stress of the task. A mix of endorphins and adrenaline serve as fuel, and when the finish line is crossed, runners feel a great sense of relief in completing the race, as well as an appreciation for the body that carried them.

So what happens when the 31 days of October end? Do we lose the steam needed to connect with fellow cancer survivors to support and encourage each other as we move forward with our health and healing? Or do we shake off the fatigue of our race with cancer, and begin preparations for the next run?

The choice is ours of course, but it seems to me that even those of us who are fortunate enough to reach that magic five-year mark in our survival never really stop training for the continuing marathon ahead.

Cancer may remove itself from our bodies, but does it ever really vanish from our lives? When October is over, what’s next for breast cancer survivors?

If you are new to cancer, you are most likely an active participant in your quest for a cure. And if you have seen many Octobers come and go, your involvement in the day-to-day regimen of conquering cancer, though no less sincere, has perhaps found a gentler path.

Either way, like a pulled hamstring from overtraining, our connection with cancer seems to push us through the pain, although perhaps a bit slower than in years past. Our “finish line” tends to fade on the horizon, as the opportunity we have to be of service to some of the 14 million world-wide cancer survivors who appear every year seems to grow. The result is often a renewed sense of comradery between men and women, all with the common goal of outrunning cancer.

So October is never really gone. It just transitions into another, somewhat quieter month at a slightly slower pace, but with a direction and objective that never loses its footing. The phrase “run for your life!” has never been more appropriate. And “Race for the Cure” has never been more meaningful.

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