In April of this year, my doctor told me that due to family history I should seek genetic testing to see if I had the “Breast Cancer Gene”. My response to him?
”I am too young for that, I’m only 35.”
I went on to say that having the gene did not necessarily mean that I would one day develop cancer, so why would having this knowledge help me in any way?
On September 30th, I had a mysterious mass examined and biopsied. On October 3rd, my doctor called and said that my diagnosis was Invasive Ductal Carcinoma–Breast Cancer. Usually, I enjoy irony, but this moment was a little too much.
I have never been friends with cancer. My mother was diagnosed when I was in eighth grade and although she survived, she was changed forever. My dad passed away in February due to lung cancer. I have always struggled with what I see as the Business of Cancer–Oriental Trading Company selling rubber duckies (by the dozen) with little pink ribbons; so-called charities that put more money into salaries and flashy slogans than into research and programs for patients and caregivers.
For me, Pinktober (October is Breast Cancer Awareness month) has been tough. EVERYWHERE I go, there is a constant reminder that something foreign has invaded my body. Even the eggs in my egg carton are individually stamped with bright pink ribbons. The logical part of my brain knows that Breast Cancer awareness has made an impact on early diagnosis–in fact, I don’t know if I would have realized that I needed to go to the doctor without the information provided by awareness programs. But my heart and thoughts can’t get away from this at all due to a constant assault of pink. I saw one campaign that I sort of like though: pink boxing gloves with the statement, “fight like a girl”. That one seems okay.
The good news: my husband Jeremy has been an amazing support from the moment I crumbled in the parking lot after the biopsy. After the diagnosis phone call, we spent about five minutes researching online. I suddenly stood up and declared, “I think I need to go buy a purse.” He agreed (of course) and took me out for a wonderful lunch (mojitos included) followed by shopping. Friends, retail therapy is a real thing! But more than indulging my avoidance behaviors, Jeremy has been gathering information, calling doctors, holding me when I break into the ugly cry–he even cleaned the house!
I am an assistant principal at an elementary school, and my job involves a lot of strength: encouraging students and teachers, making decisions, carrying crying 4-year-olds to the office, etc. Usually, I can leave personal problems at the door, which is what we ask our teachers to do. Usually, I can act my way into the appearance of having it all going my way. But not this time. I have been asked by so many dear friends if I’m okay, but “I have cancer” isn’t really a hallway conversation.
Speaking of “I have cancer,” I need to let everyone know that I don’t HAVE cancer. I do not own this. Cancer is not part of me and I cannot allow it to take over my being. I am used to winning and getting my way. I hope that doesn’t sound selfish or pretentious, but it’s true. I have a long life to live and I can’t let this one moment define me.
What I am currently seeking is positive thoughts, prayers, and healing energy. I have an eclectic community of religions and beliefs in my life, and so whatever healing power you believe in is what I need. Some of you pray, some of you meditate, some of you light candles, some of you will want to send me a pink ribbon desk set (don’t do that one). So your job is to do whatever it that you can do to support me, even if it is a fleeting thought. My job is to tap into my inner courage and strength and spunk and fortitude. My job is to continue to be a woman, a wife, a mother of three, a leader/mother of 800 (students and teachers), a friend, a knowledge seeker, and a carrier of fabulous handbags.
And I finally got the genetic test. The doctor may have been on to something.