Friday, May 6, 2011

A Tale of Two Gatherings

Last week, some dear friends from my former career life got together for a reunion in New York City.  It's probably ten years or more since I've seen some of them.  We keep in touch sporadically.  Mostly through facebook, but some news can't be announced with a status update or brief tweet.

Sharing a breast cancer diagnosis is one of those things.  So, that bit of information never made its way to those old friends of mine.  What would be the point?  I never see them.  We no longer share the stuff of everyday.  They're not involved in the minutiae of my life.  Is there an etiquette rule requiring all old friends must be notified upon receipt of life-altering crappy news?

Turns out the timing wasn't right and I couldn't attend anyway, but if I had gone, I knew I wouldn't tell them.  I would have pretended to be the young woman they think they know.

Breast cancer doesn't belong there.  It doesn't belong anywhere, but especially there.  In a dingy bar filled with past memories.  Surrounded, not by people currently in their forties, but by the idea of who we used to be in our twenties and thirties.

I'd leave that reunion soon enough to re-enter my current world, but at that gathering, cancer would wait outside the door.  Lingering in the shadows for a few hours.  Non-existent for the moment.  While I would be whom I once was. Back in the days when I was more carefree...before it found me.


In a city farther south, another group of friends gathered for the National Breast Cancer Coalition Advocacy Training Conference and this group couldn't have been more different from the first.

Here were women I've never met, but spend time with everyday.  Whose words and work I admire.  Whose thoughts I connect with.  They gathered in Washington to fight for something I also believe is worth fighting for.

At this event cancer walked right in.  Discussions of breast cancer were not only welcome, but encouraged.  It took center stage and was the sole reason these women came together.  They were not only happy to talk about it, but giddy, enthusiastic, and inspired by it.

It is NBCC's goal to end breast cancer by 2020 and all conversation centered on making that a reality.

At last, an exciting mission, empowering when embraced.  For too long it seems we were stuck in a sea of pink, hearing of changes, wanting to believe advancements were being made.  Needing to believe optimistic statistics when in actuality, approximately 40,000 people still die from this disease every year.

About as many as two decades ago.

That's not advancement.  That's not change.  That's a number hidden so far down in a sea of pink we barely see it, but deep within ourselves, where the scary thoughts thrive, we know it's the truth.  Pink awareness is not enough.

The people attending this event heard the conversation shift.  They refocused on facts, and with a concrete goal in sight discussed how research, combined with action and dedication could have the 2020 eradication deadline within our grasps.

Social media was at its finest as bloggers tweeted from their workshops.  I couldn't absorb the information fast enough and want to thank Uneasy Pink, The Cancer Culture Chronicles, The Accidental Amazon, Pink Ribbon Blues and Women with Cancer bloggers, just to name a few, for taking time to spread the inspiration around.

If I had to choose a place to be that weekend, it would have been there in Washington, beside this group of incredibly motivated women.  Dragging cancer to the center of the room for all to see.  Believing, it was now possible to kick the unwanted guest back out...never to be seen again.


10 comments:

  1. Stacey,

    What a great post. I struggle with that too, when people I haven't seen in decades find me online and ask me how I am. As I summarize twenty or so years, am I obligated to throw in breast cancer?

    Thank you for helping to spread the word. I really think that things are changing now.

    Have a great weekend and happy mother's day.

    Katie

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  2. Stacey,
    I agree, friendships from the past change with or without cancer, but throw cancer into the mix and things can really get uncomfortable. I always struggle with how much detail to give people. And I'm with you, I would have loved to have been there last weekend, too. In a way, I felt like I was there because those women you mentioned were representing all of us and were and are diligently reporting back. Also, like you, I'm amazed on a daily basis how much these online friendships mean to me and how much I look forward to "spending time" with my new friends. Friends like you, Stacey! Great post! And Happy Mother's Day! And I think the conversation IS changing, or at least beginning to!

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  3. Awesome post. I love your sensibility as much as I love your writing. Happy Mother's Day to you.

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  4. Stacey - first of all, who is more awesome than you? We wish you could have there at our bloggers table.....perhaps next year???

    Anyway this post reminds me of a reunion I had in NYC last year with some grad school friends. I had just come off an excruciating two weeks spent pretty much in bed in 24/7 pain following a very serious toxic reaction to a a chemo drug I had just started. So you can imagine where my head was.....I was the first person to arrive and the next person that walked in asked me how I was and I just blurted out something like "Honestly not great. I just had a severe reaction to a chemo drug and spent the last two weeks in bed, wondering if I was going to die".

    ******** CRICKETS *************************

    And so it went, me letting my big mouth get in the way of what could have been a perfectly enjoyable afternoon sans breast cancer. Trouble is, this effin' thing is so much a part of my every day life now it's hard to distance myself. And when someone asks "what have you been up to?" invariably breast cancer is going to play into my answer sooner or later, OR I'll just say "Not much" and be done with it.

    For me, that's what was so fantastic about NBCC. I could speak my mind without anyone looking at me like I had three heads and make for the nearest exit. In a way it was completely liberating. Exhausting and overwhelming too, but all in all an unbelievable experience, and friendships solidified for life.

    Next year Stacey!

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  5. As I read that I found myself wondering what if? What if you told them truly what was happening with you? Would it have opened the door to more meaningful conversation based on what is really happening? No one goes through life entirely unscathed. Each person will have scars that they may hide, but a friendship from the past can only carry on to the future if it is based on truthful sharing. Your revelations could have opened the door to something special, something that could make these friendships something rewarding.

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  6. I want to echo Anna: who IS more awesome than you?

    What a lovely post.

    A few words from someone, older, but with much less wisdom. There hasn't been one occasion where I've shared the breast cancer diagnosis and been sorry. And there's everything in sharing how & when. Sometimes the leap of faith brings with it an unexpected dividend. Sometimes not sharing with people who care about us keeps us isolated. The beauty of course? Your time is your own:)

    I think so much of you. Hugs,
    Jody

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  7. Oh, Stacey, poignant, fantastic post. You were certainly with us in spirit, my friend. BIG LOPSIDED HUGS!!

    Kathi

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  8. Thanks for the comments, Katie and for inspiring me to spread that word.

    Nancy, I agree with everything you said. From feeling as if I was at the conference to the importance of these online friendships. If I miss a day checking in with everyone, it really bothers me. I had no idea that could happen when I started this last year. Thanks, as always and i hope you had a wonderful Mother's Day.

    Thank you, Jackie! You made my day.

    Anna, how is it you have the ability to write about feeling like crap from chemo and still make me laugh? The cricket thing, funny. But, I'm sorry that happened to you. I think that's why I'd hesistate to tell those friends of mine. It would just change too much. I'm so glad you felt at ease at NBCC. I would have loved meeting you and hope to next year!

    Hi Elaine, thanks for reading and commenting here. At first, I still thought, no, I wouldn't want to bring it up. I'd want to pretend I was the same person as before, but you gave me something to think about and after a while I thought you might be right. It's true that I don't know what's been going on with these people. Who knows what they've experienced and just maybe we'd reconnect on a new level. So, thanks for giving me that point of view.

    Jody, it's a tough call, but now I can see how there might be a benefit thanks to Elaine's comment and yours. Maybe those friends should know. Perhaps one of these days I'll link my personal facebook page to the blog and see what happens... one day, not yet though.

    Kathi, thanks for that comment and your devotion to changing the conversation!

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  9. Ah, yes...the 'sharing' issue. Sometimes I'm so sick of my BC history, other times I just want to be accepted as a whole package of my history.

    Insightful post.

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  10. Hi Pink Kitchen, I hear you and know exactly what you mean. Thanks for reading. I just found your blog and love it. I'm always looking for good recipes.

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