Awareness of cancer, vigilance never ending
By the time you read this, October will be over. October is the month designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month. The month may be over, but the awareness never ends and vigilance continues.
When I finished my treatments for breast cancer, I said boldly that the experience would not define me. I don’t think there is a person alive who has had cancer that has not had their life defined or redefined by that journey.
Try as we might to move beyond the experience, the diagnosis alone hangs over us. And if it doesn’t immediately and apparently affect us, it touches someone else — family, friend, even a familiar stranger.
We are not pinned to the ground like Gulliver tied down by the Lilliputians as much as we are like the sand washed over by the tide. We are changed and moved — even against our best efforts to say that we have been unchanged.
For me, I have become the “go to doc” for people with cancer — teenagers mostly at this point, who say to me, “You are the only person with whom I have something in common.”
I have had numerous patients who have said to me that a sister, mother, aunt or best friend has had breast cancer and have shared with me their fears, concerns and grief.
Cancer has prepared me to journey with people in a way that was not possible prior to having cancer. A colleague of mine and I celebrate the same number of years of “remission,” and we talk about what it was like to look in the mirror and not find ourselves looking back. We laugh, but there is poignancy in what we share; only we know too well the journey.
With each passing month, the rate of recurrence goes down. We are not naïve to think, however, that recurrence is entirely out of the picture. Though we are aware of the possibilities, we try to live our lives as though we have been given a clean slate and a new beginning. And, in many ways, we have.
Our new beginnings are tempered and honed, however, by what we have passed through on the journey to where we now find ourselves. We know that each day, each moment, is precious; each sunrise a solitary, new morning; each sunset a blessing on the day that passed.
There are days I feel badly that others are not doing as well as I, and when someone tells me that their friend or sister or mother has not successfully overcome the struggle, I wonder why I have and others have not. I am not alone in this wondering.
I attribute, cautiously, my success at this point with early diagnosis, good treatment, apparently good genes and a not so small portion of Grace. I am reminded that to whom much is given, much will be required. It is a new and wondrous beginning.