Wednesday, March 30, 2011

Pink Power Revisited

All the discussion over pink power lately reminded me that I once wrote a post called The Power of Pink early on in my blogging days when no one was reading my stuff except Nancy.  Thanks for that, Nancy.

With some trepidation, I went to read it again, probably for the first time since writing it.  Afraid I'd find naive words written by a breast cancer survivor (for lack of a better word) taken in by all the pinkwashing that abounds.  Had my opinions changed since entering into our amazing blog world, since learning so much from so many well informed women?
  
Turns out, except for one cringing use of the boob word, it was pretty good. Months later, this is still my point of view where pink is concerned.  It's really about the power we find within ourselves and a hope for a future without breast cancer, thanks to an organization focused on...research.  Check it out.  

One Million Strong

I used to pretend that if I didn't talk about breast cancer or acknowledge its existence in any way, then it couldn't hurt me. You know how everyone has a circle of personal space around them?  Well, if I refused to let cancer enter my space whether through reading about it, watching yet another news story or hearing about one other person I knew being diagnosed, then I was protected. It wouldn't break into my personal space; my force field held strong.

Stupid, of course, but when you're scared of something for so very long, that's how you deal.  At least, me, until it broke through and I had to face this enemy head on, boobs first.  The thing is, it's nearly a year and a half since I was diagnosed and the road travelled these days isn't as rough as it was early on and I'm starting to believe in the power of pink. Not in the "Let's raise breast cancer awareness pink."  Although, I won't argue the importance of that here. No, I'm talking about its personal power when faced head on. 

Pink gives us the strength to accept the challenges we've been given, even when they seem insurmountable. Pink is the freedom to talk with others out loud, in public and not in the back room of a small shop in a strip mall someplace, as it was in my mother's day more than twenty years ago.  Pink has without a doubt, helped raise survival rates, so there are more of us out there to band together. The power of pink takes down the monster and just maybe, makes it a bit less scary.  At the very least, we are no longer alone and as they say, there's strength in numbers.

I can say the words now.  Breast cancer.  I couldn't when talking about my mother or even myself when first diagnosed, as if just saying it would make it worse.  Pink has allowed me to change.  I can read all about it now without being afraid.  In fact, I'm devouring any and all information I can get on how to fight this thing and I don't mean for my own particular treatment, but on a broader scale.  Before, I always wanted to look away, but now, I'm looking right at it and wondering what I can do to help.  

This disease has taken countless women from this world including my mother, my aunt, my brother's mother-in-law and two people my own age I knew since high school and those are just the ones I knew personally who have died. How many more are living with breast cancer everyday?  I don't want it to win ever again. I'm taking a stand. For myself and for the women I've lost.  I signed on to Dr. Susan Love's Army of Women and I hope you'll consider doing the same.  I'm all for raising awareness and early detection is my mantra, but Dr. Love is working toward prevention, not just a cure. 

Please watch the PSA attached here and visit the Army of Women website. Imagine a world without breast cancer. Imagine all the women gone before us. How proud they would be.  It wasn't in vain. Pink will have finally killed the beast.  



Monday, March 28, 2011

Why It Matters

I didn't see this post coming.  My blog is usually about little moments in the everyday life of a mom juggling a family and breast cancer.  I sometimes veer off course and urge people to check out the Love/Avon Army of Women and their efforts to find the causes of breast cancer in order to learn how to truly prevent it...someday.  It's a small thing we can all do to help with a greater good.  The end of breast cancer, coming about through research.  Imagine that.

I sometimes spout my respect and gratitude for a small organization, Support Connection, whose only mission is to support women with breast or ovarian cancer and their families and caregivers.  That's it.  That's all they care about. Helping those that need it in the most efficient, caring, direct ways possible.  I personally found their services invaluable and keep in contact with them to this day.  It is my wish all cancer patients find that kind of support.  I'm not sure healing can take place without it.

Those are the things that normally make up my blog, but recently exchanges taking place on facebook along with some thought-provoking blog posts have raised questions about some breast cancer fundraisers, their tactics and goals.  Are these companies being responsible with the money being raised? Where are the dollars going exactly?  Which methods are utilized to raise these funds?  And does it matter?

All good questions and ones I didn't give a lot of thought to...before.  It was too easy to see the pink ribbon everywhere, hear of all the money being raised and assume it was going toward a cure for breast cancer.  After all, that's the line we're being fed over and over again, working toward a cure.  It never occurred to me to question whether the products being sold can actually contribute to the causes of breast cancer.  Why would I think that when the package looks so pretty in pink?  As long as money was being raised "for the cure," all was good, right?

Turns out, as most things, it's not that simple.  Some organizations use their donations to only raise awareness of breast cancer, to educate about early detection.  While worthy, those things won't find a cure. Only research can do that and it must be highly funded in order to advance.

As the beneficiary of early detection, I agree the word about breast cancer should be out there.  Women do need to be aware of the symptoms.  They do need to get mammograms and ultrasounds.  But don't, for a single second believe early detection means cured.

It does not.

It is exactly what it claims to be...breast cancer discovered at an early stage. Does that mean women are spared the chance of recurrence?  No.  Or their cancer will never advance to Stages 3 or 4?  Nope.  So, it's clear to me that donation dollars would be better spent elsewhere, knocking on the research door.

That's one thing, another is the method invoked by some organizations in the good name of breast cancer or in this case, "boobie" cancer.

I wasn't going to write about this.  I was going to live and let live.  There are better bloggers than I that write about this eloquently, responsibly and in depth, but then I thought of my mother, my aunt and my sister-in-law's mom and how they would view this emerging "lighter side of breast cancer."

Would they think it's funny to see organizations dumb down the gravity of their disease in the name of awareness?  Would they think it was fun to have young men and women giggle while tossing the word "boobies" around for the cause?  Would they approve of an organization turning a blind eye to the ugly realities of breast cancer because it's not "cool" enough?

Probably not.  If they were alive I'd ask them.  There wasn't anything funny about what they endured.  There is nothing fun about watching the disintegration of someone you love.

Cancer is personal and sometimes that fact gets overlooked by the fundraising machine.  Focus is lost.  Cancer is seen as a giant entity, a force to be reckoned with.  Which it is, but only because of the people it touches, the lives it destroys.  We can't ever lose sight of that.

Cancer can only be taken down with further research and it needs to be treated with respect. As do the people living with it everyday and those that died because of it.  We all deserve better than giggles and rubber bracelets with sophmoric, sexualized, catch phrases and I can't support any breast cancer fundraiser that forgets that.



To read the facts and opinions of the bloggers I refer to, visit Uneasy PinkThe Cancer Culture Chronicles and Nancy's Point.



Monday, March 21, 2011

Slowing Down

It's been a long week.  My boys are on their spring break, and since we don't have travel plans it simply means my kids are home from school for two weeks.  Home, here with me, every minute of every day.  From previous posts you may know how much I love that.  Not so much.

Life, as I know it, basically comes to a halt.  No blogging, no hanging out at Starbucks.  Did I mention no blogging?  The quiet and the hours required to read blogs and write my own are no where to be found among the playdates, Wii tournaments, cookie baking and checkers.  The breakfasts, lunches, dinners and housekeeping that comes with having everyone home all day doesn't allow for such luxuries as quiet time.

By yesterday afternoon I was longing for solitude, hungry for it.  Thinking again how once these guys are grown, they won't need so much of me.  The pull on me and my time won't be as great.  I've recently written, from my perspective as a mother with breast cancer, how I wanted my children to grow up as quickly as possible.  How I wanted time to breeze along, simply, so I'm still here.  I just want, as any mother wants, to see my boys grown, capable and self-sufficient.  Not just so they'll be better prepared if something happens to me.  It's more for me, really.  I don't want to miss a thing.  Not a moment, not a milestone, not a tear, not a smile.  It's what I want.

But, still it's a fight to keep those desires front and center when I'm giving all I have to these small guys for days on end.  Do I want time to pass quickly or take it slow?  Which is it and do I really need to choose?

I'm an old mom, on average.  My first son didn't appear until I was 40.  I was very used to having my own way, using my time however I saw fit and if that meant wasting hours in front of a computer screen or nose-deep in a novel while dust and laundry piled up, well, so what?

The thing is, that lifestyle doesn't work with a family and if it does, I haven't figured it out.  So I struggle.  I crave for time to wallow away, require it to replenish my spirit, almost like a battery charger, but I'm not too upset I no longer have it.

At nearly 5 and 7, my guys are fun, as well as funny.  I love hearing them spout ideas and theories regarding everything from the way birds fly to video game strategy.  I'm in awe of their intensity when debating the benefits of jet packs.  I love that they can find the idea of spending the day in their pajamas just as exciting as a day at the beach.  I love that they still want to hang out with their mommy and daddy.

Yesterday, I unexpectedly found myself alone when my husband took the boys outside to play.  My house was suddenly blissfully quiet.  Laundry put away, kitchen clean, toys more or less picked up, I sat and pondered my next move. Catching up on blogs seemed like a smart use of time, but that meant I'd have to think about something other than myself for awhile and I didn't feel like doing that. (No offense to my blogger friends.)

Doing absolutely nothing was nice and reminded me of days before children when freedom meant not being responsible for anyone else's care and well-being.  It was a sweet thought and I lingered in it for a moment, but it was pushed away as I caught a glimpse out the window of my husband taking a boy in each hand and heading down the road to throw rocks in the stream.

I was blown away by the perfection of it all.  I didn't see faces, only the backs of the three men I love most in the world walk toward the late afternoon sun. The two small ones on either side of their daddy skipping down the road.

I could have watched that scene forever, trying to capture it in my heart and memory as I realized these moments truly are brief.  I can't rush my boys. Time will have its way and these childhood days will pass in an instant whether I want them to or not.  If slowing down means savoring moments like this...I'll take it.  Over and over again.  And if I have to give up my own quiet time for now, well, so what?



Sunday, March 13, 2011

Thoughts from the Other Side

Saying I'm writing from the other side of menopause sounds very dramatic, but since that's what I'm doing, I'm going to use it to my advantage.  At least before I admit the real truth, which is the only drama accompaning my trip to menopause took place in my head.  But until last Thursday, my first full day in menopause, dramatic was how it all seemed.

Immediate, abrupt, final.  All kinds of serious adjectives were blurring my expectations of ovary removal when in actuality, I didn't seem any different from the day before.  I didn't feel any of the symptoms instantaneous menopause would supposedly bestow on me.  I didn't experience any of the changes I had envisioned for myself.

Contrary to popular opinion, my hormones were not running around wreaking havoc.  No anxiety, sadness or moments of craziness.  My emotions seemed in check, like always.  And as I tried to pinpoint anything that seemed out of sorts, the one unexpected feeling that kept emerging was relief.  A strong sense of relief that this ordeal was over.  I happily discovered I still felt like me. I wasn't sweaty and I didn't feel "old."  However, that may feel, I wasn't getting it.

Many thoughts contributed to my mood the days leading up to surgery.  I felt sad then, but I fought the emotion.  I questioned it, but didn't truly allow myself to grieve for this latest loss.  For that's what ovary removal is, a loss and for me, it was losing a perception of my younger self.  Still, I refused to give in to it.  Instead I wondered why my bilateral mastectomy was easier to accept. Why didn't I mourn that loss?  Was it because that needed to be done?

I know everyone is different.  We all reach acceptance of our choices on our own terms and my choice of bilateral mastectomy over lumpectomy was the way to go.  It allowed me the most peace of mind.  It was the only decision I could make that granted me the gift of waking each new day without regret.

It was my choice, I accepted it and I was ready for the day to became a reality, so why did giving up my ovaries take a larger mental toll?

Perhaps, because the ovaries weren't the definitive source of cancer, its problems consist of "maybe" and what might be.  I was giving up a great deal for a "maybe."  Perhaps it's because the notion of ovaries inspires our view of fertility, of motherhood and when we take that away, we're left with an unfamilar old woman.  I was giving up an idea of who I was.  Was my identity tied tighter to my ovaries than to my breasts?  And just how much are we supposed to give up, anyway?

I was haunted by these questions, seriously disturbed by thoughts of post-surgery personality.  How was I to be?  What was I really losing here?  No wonder I was sad.  That's a lot of crap to carry around.  The morning after proved I hadn't changed when I woke feeling as I always do.  I hadn't really lost anything at all, except the thing I wanted to lose...estrogen.  Other than that, I was the same, only now I had a lot less on my mind.  Which is a good thing, because apparently when you're in menopause, you can lose track of your thoughts.  At least that's what they tell me.


Have you chosen to remove your ovaries?  Did you see it as a great loss?


Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Choices

Lately, I've been thinking about the choices cancer forces upon us. Questions I would never consider had cancer not parked on my doorstep. It's hard to remember how to just be, how to just enjoy a day without life's great existential questions buzzing in my ear every minute.  It's hard enough seeing the physical reminder of my choices in the mirror and now, before I even get used to things as they are, I'm forced to confront another choice.  One, a normal woman of a certain age would never question.

Ovaries? Stay or go?

In all honesty, I've already made this decision armed with advice from my gynecologist and oncologist.  I knew this was coming.  I've been considering it for quite a while, perhaps too long, my uneasy brain thinks, but despite knowing and accepting the reasons, I'm having a hard time dealing.

Tomorrow I meet my choice head on, but today...I'm moping.  I'll even dare to say, sad.  I'm not seeing the positives that come along with this choice, though I know they exist.  I only see what I'm losing...again.  Thanks, cancer.

I get to say goodbye now to so many things:

A young me, the way I've been since I was 12 years old.  


A fertile me, not that it matters in terms of new babies. That's not happening, but still not how I'd choose to lose it.


Goodbye to periods, perhaps that isn't such a bad thing either, but still not the way I want it to play out.


One big hello to instant menopause.  Just seeing the word makes me feel old....Instantly old.  

It's not one thing that's making me sad, it's all of those things.  It's nearly two years of having to make decisions I shouldn't have to make.  None of us should have to choose to remove our ovaries, our breasts and then walk around everyday as if we haven't been changed, as if life continues on as before when we know damn well it doesn't.  Cancer doesn't let that happen. That is not the gift it gives us, no matter how well things turn out.  It robs us of our right to let life play out naturally, to grow old naturally.

I'm not happy about tomorrow.  I don't want to retell my story to the staff.  I don't want to remind some nurse or anesthesiolgist yet again, left arm only even though they'll never find a vein there.  I'm tired of the whole thing, this whole cancer thing.

I also, keep thinking I'll be different afterward, changed somehow, no longer my usual cheery self, but a new cranky, sweaty self.  The day looms before me as a dividing line in my life... Young me changed by the flash of a knife into old me, never to be the same.  Only once before has anything created such a clear division in how I see my life.  It was the moment my mother died.  My life changed then from being a person with a mother to one without.  So clear. There was no going back no matter how much I wanted to, there was only forward.

Giving up my ovaries is like that, there's no going back.  So, I'm sad, but I'll go and get through it.  I'll remember to be thankful that although it's a crappy choice, it was still mine to make and not forced upon me by some horrendous turn of this disease.

Among my goodbyes I'll remember to wish my elevated estrogen level and its friends, high risk of breast cancer recurrence and ovarian cancer risk, a fond farewell.  And hope for the best, because really, what other choice is there?

See you on the other side of menopause.



Wednesday, March 2, 2011

My Old Dog

It goes fast, doesn't it?  Time.  Life.

I know some moments creep.  Usually the waiting moments.  Waiting for the phone to ring, waiting for test results, waiting for the doctor to open the door. All disturbingly slow, but in the big picture, life goes very fast.

I'm glad about that, for the most part.  That's the unwelcome gift left by cancer. I now want some things to come in a hurry, so I'll see them. Of course, no one is guaranteed a long lifetime, but cancer ensures I'll never forget that fact and so, I'm in quite a rush for my children to grow up.  As much as I want to hold onto them, to these young moments, I want to see them become young men, become self-sufficient, not need their mother so much, even more.

For that to happen time needs to march on.  But, I'm painfully aware someone here can't keep up.

It seems like yesterday that my husband (then boyfriend) and I brought home our giant dog from the local ASPCA.  To the best of anyone's knowledge, this beautiful German Shepherd was about 2 years old.  He had been abandoned. Left alone in an apartment for days after someone moved out leaving a bowl of water and a bag of dry dog food open on the floor.  His barking finally alerted neighbors who called the police.

These cops undoubtedly pounded on the door before taking him because until recently, when his hearing started going, Goliath would go nuts if someone knocked on our door.

He would bark, growl and attack the door as if the sound triggered scary memories of being pulled from his home and caged in a shelter.  As if he were doing his damnedest to prevent it from happening again.

We were never the family whose dog let anybody enter with sloppy kisses.  He wouldn't let anyone enter.  Eventually we had to separate him from anyone he didn't know.  We couldn't walk down the street without him chasing after cars like a mad dog.  I longed to take my dog for walks, but his strength was overwhelming.  He was quite the challenge.

We tried training classes, but he didn't fit in with the happy-go-lucky, socialized dogs we met there.  Goliath had different needs.  Eventually we sent him away for six weeks to someone dealing exclusively with German Shepherds, training them for police work.  That helped.  We learned how to control him.  He understood he was no longer the boss and only then could I proudly walk him handsomely by my side without the risk of running into cars.

When he was 6 years old, life as he knew it screeched to a halt.  We brought home our baby, our oldest son.  You could almost see the resignation in Goliath's face.  He knew things had irrevocably changed.  Two years later, we brought home our youngest.  Goliath let out deep sighs as he curled up in a corner and watched.  The boys were too young to be any fun.

As the boys got older, so did Goliath and when they were ready to play with him, run with him, cuddle with him, he was no longer interested.  He was tired and his hips hurt.

It's a hard fact to face, but Goliath won't be the dog my boys remember from their childhood.  They love him, but he's not able to share much.  He won't go upstairs and has never been in their room, never slept in their beds.  They've never thrown a ball to him and seen him gracefully retrieve as he used to do in his youth. The boys never knew a young Goliath.  They just know how to be gentle with their old dog.

These days he spends his time sleeping in a sunny spot.  He no longer hears a knock or a doorbell.  A stranger could walk right in without him knowing.  And today, he fell twice in front of me as his back leg gave out, leaving me to wonder how much pain he's in, but a part of me doesn't want to know that answer.  Then I'd have to do something I'm not ready to do.  I can't say goodbye to him.

As I sit here with him at my feet, I see time as a double edged sword.  As much as I want life to hurry along, as much as I want my boys to grow, Goliath reminds me he's grown too fast.  If only I could freeze the earlier days, when he was young and cancer hadn't invaded our house.

But, it's not to be.  If the shelter was right, Goliath is 13 years old now, old for a big dog, but forever the heart of this family, our first boy and it's he that causes my inner conflict, this battle with time.  For him, I want to stop the clock.  I don't like where time is taking him.