Nine years of Pinktober while living with metastatic breast cancer.
For a few months before October, I think a lot about Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I wonder what nonprofit organizations have planned to draw attention to breast cancer and raise money for their programs or for research. Since my diagnosis, I’ve looked toward October enough times to know that not every effort is one I can support and I’ve written about that before for Cure (https://www.curetoday.com/view/9step-plan-for-breast-cancer-awareness-month).
Pinktober hits hard this year because, like every year, it’s been a terrible year for losses. The toll of lost mothers, grandmothers, daughters, sisters, cousins and friends continues in what feels, in the lowest moments, like a sharp rake dragged across my heart. Big names in breast cancer advocacy have died and so have those whose impact was great but less observed, and since an estimated nearly 44,000 women in the US will die of metastatic breast cancer this year, there are tens of thousands of women I never knew who are no longer here.
All of them are missed and gone far too soon.
Because this year has been especially full of loss for me, it’s been hard to reconcile the hope that I continue to feel for what research might be able to achieve with the reality that surrounds me.
I try to take care of myself most of the time and one of the best ways I’ve found is to have a dedicated mental health person to talk with. Very recently I was describing to her how I lived my life, daily, from 2015 through 2018: For three full years, pretty much every day reinforced the loss we experience with metastatic cancer, our own losses and the loss of those we meet. First, for me, it was, “This is my last time seeing the trees come back”, and later in the year “This is my last Thanksgiving” or “Is this the last birthday?”
This continued for three full years—the 36-month median survival for metastatic breast cancer—and kept on for two additional years. Even now, when I’m about to reach nine full years with this disease, I can be brought to my knees by the joy of an experience and the certainty that this will be the last time I’ll experience it.
As we approach October and anytime a friend’s life is cut short by breast cancer, the pain courses through the community. You feel it when we gather and it’s tangible on social media too, where we say their names for as long as we have breath to do it. It doesn’t seem possible that so many women can die, year after year, of something that I’ve heard described—to my face, by a nurse—as “at least it’s breast cancer.”
I don’t begrudge the pink—the runs and walks, the fundraising, the ribbons that will decorate the walls of my Chicago airport and my cancer center. Usually it is well-meaning and has succeeded in getting more women and men better care and treatments. This year, though, pink is getting nothing from me. It already took enough.
For more news on cancer updates, research and education, don’t forget to subscribe to CURE®’s newsletters here.