Saturday, October 4, 2008

Is It Your Mother, Sister, Aunt, Cousin, or Friend?

October is Breast Cancer Awareness month, something very near to my heart. As I've said before, I love the color pink. I own many pink items, and not just because of the color. I buy them because many companies market pink items that give a kick back to the Susan G. Komen Foundation. Not only am I buying items with my favorite color, but I'm making a donation, as well. I give money to this cause because this year alone, breast cancer will take an estimated 40,000 women, and another 182,000 will receive the diagnosis. I support this cause for those women, but mostly, I support this cause for Betsy and Barb.

When I was in 8th grade, I dealt with death for the first time. Betsy was someone I knew my entire life, literally. She and my mom met when they were both pregnant. Betsy's daughter was born two days after me, and I can't remember a time they were not in our lives. Betsy and my mom did Girl Scouts together, we went on trips together, held garage sales together, and we were as close as any people not related by blood can be. One afternoon when I was in 6th grade, Betsy's daughter called our house and asked if my mom if she knew where her parents were. She got from school and no one was there, no note, or anything. My mom didn't know, and shortly after, her parents returned home. For the first time in my life, I heard the phrase "found a lump" as it was revealed where they were. For the next two years, Betsy fought. She lost her hair, she lost her breast, and then finally, she lost the fight. I remember the afternoon I found out. I overheard my mom on the phone, and I knew before she even came upstairs to tell me. I still miss her, and more than anything, I hope for a cure, so no other girl will have to lose her mom at an age when girls NEED their moms (whether they admit it or not).

Barb is a dear friend with whom I was lucky to teach with for two years. She was my team leader my first year of teaching, and when we split to two middle schools, she stayed, and I transferred across town. I don't see her as much as I'd like, but we try to set aside dinner dates! Barb is hilarious. She has such a dry sense of humor that sometimes, it takes a few minutes for what she said to settle in... and then, you're usually laughing so hard you're crying! A few months into my first year of teaching, Barb told us at our team meeting that she was going to have to start undergoing chemo for her breast cancer. I then learned that she'd been fighting it for a long time and that it would go into remission for awhile, then return. I learned that it had spread to other parts of her body. I also learned that she is stronger than any other human being I have ever met, hands down. Every Monday, Barb would have to take the afternoon off to go to chemo, but that is the ONLY day she'd miss. She came to school when her hair was falling out, when her nails peeled, and when she was so sick that she could hardly keep down Saltines. And you know, what we do.. it's not easy. When the kids would complain about Barb being grouchy one day, I wanted to smack them, because they just had no idea. Barb is not someone who lets you pity her. She is very private, and so, we never talked much past the surface, but every now and then, we'd move past the jokes, and I'd let her know how much I admired her utter strength. And I do. Barb is my hero, and I want a cure for Barb. One Christmas, I told her I'd buy her a car, and she said, How about a cure? I would trade just about anything to be able to give that to Barb.

For Barb and Betsy and all those other women, protect yourself. Examine your breasts, get yearly checkups, and if you're in an at-risk group, start mammograms early. Exercise. If you have a child, try to breastfeed. Did you know that breastfeeding benefits mama, too? The numbers are so staggering, so great, that it's easy to believe that our lives have all been touched by this disease. So, who is your breast cancer survivor, hero, or angel?


Anonymous said...

my mom's brother and his wife both died this past winter, but to me, i will always consider both of them survivors. my aunt was hospitalized with heart problems at one point, and for awhile.. they didn't think she was going to make it. she did. she was diagnosed with breast cancer, and i think lost both breasts at some point, but still.. she survived it, and went on to make a full recovery. my uncle was diagnosed with lung cancer that spread to his other organs, and eventually to his brain, but he lived for over a year after we found out about the brain tumor. he died just after thanksgiving last year, and she died a few months later. but they both lived long (and i hope happy) lives. they were in their upper 70s, had two adult children, and lived to at least know that they had a grandchild on the way (in my uncle's case), and to actually get to see it (in my aunt's).

my best friends' mom was diagnosed our freshman year of college. i still remember when i found out.. we were riding in a car, and one of them casually mentioned something about a doctor's appointment.. when i asked about it, they said that they hadn't known how to tell me, but that their mom had been diagnosed with breast cancer & was going to be starting chemotherapy. their family has always been like family to me, their house like a second home. and around this same time.. they lost their older sister unexpectedly from a blood clot. there is only so much that one person should have to deal with, and i've always been amazed by the strength their mom had to have, to lose a child & learn you have cancer in the same year. luckily, the treatments worked, and she can be counted among the survivors. she's still here, and still one of the strongest, most devoted mothers i've ever known.

Jenni said...

My mom! Two time survivor!

I have my first mammogram scheduled for early December...

Anonymous said...

I have been touched by breast cancer as well. Actually the local breast cancer coalition's newsletter began in the office of my home. This is definitely a meaningful post & I thank you for bringing awareness to Breast Cancer! :)

Anonymous said...

My paternal grandmother died of breast cancer so I am always telling women "give yourself exams, go to the dr."

I have my yearly every year in october and I will be going next week