Off the Mat

The road stretched out as we drove, first east, then north, with nothing but some duffel bags too small to carry our troubles of the last couple of years.

Beyond my windshield possibilities come into view.  Beaches calling for explorers, clams to be eaten, fun to be had, but buzzing most in my mind was not the joy ahead, but the crap left behind.

Thanks, Breast Cancer.

But I wonder, if I can’t see it or hear it or deal with it, if my responsibilities end and appointments no longer clutter my calendar, can I forget it?

Can I be someone who pushes aside the faces and words of women who died and ignore the glaring realization, the knowledge it can be me?

If it seems there’s a smidgen of chance to wipe my slate clean, it’s not for long.  I know there’s no escape.  My past travels with me.  Cancer rides along daring me to shake it off, leave it in the dust somehow and for a while I manage to do that, but as the days pass and miles to home trickle down, reality seeps thickly, slowly back through my pores reminding me my burdens are exactly where I left them.

Once home I wonder why it’s easier to focus on the bad, when the good matters as much or more.  It sometimes seems my feet root in a pile of unpleasant memories and whither rather than seek fresh ground to thrive.

Such a waste of time and I don’t want to waste any more.

Maybe if I change my thinking, approach things differently.  Since I can’t outrun my own history, perhaps I can use it to my advantage.

Renewed and encouraged by this rare positive attitude I venture off to my second ever Pilates class (because, you know, it’s good for me) only to have my mood squashed.

Pilates is hard for one out of shape and stiff from surgeries.  Moves prove difficult, limbs refuse to stretch, muscles shake with each position and then…The Plank.  Arms out, flat on my mat, lying heavily, painfully on my implants with zero strength to lift up.  It shouldn’t be this hard, but like so much for those of us diagnosed, it is.  Cancer’s roadblocks, again popping up when least expected, even here.  It’s overwhelming.  I put my forehead to the floor and nearly cry.

Staying close to the mat for a second, I mourn my lost flexibility. I’m angry I can’t lie on my stomach, disappointed by my weakness and pissed at breast cancer.  I wonder if anyone else here carries these thoughts, this story.  It can’t only be me, but at this moment it seems so.

Somehow I had to push up…I managed, not gracefully, not smoothly and definitely out of form, but I got up and finished what I had started determined to get better.

Right after struggling through Pilates, I catch a television commercial overrun with happy, smiling people, some bald, some wearing scarves, surrounded by flowing pink banners excited for a breast cancer walk.

Why are these women so happy?  Has a cure been found I don’t know about?

This really bothers me.  Those faces seem so clueless…don’t they get it?  Breast cancer is not something to smile about.  If only the other side were portrayed in these commercials for the cure.  People speaking eloquently, passionately of those lost to breast cancer, describing their own disease and proclaiming awareness and early detection are not enough. Actual angry, fed up citizens demanding their donations go directly to research so pink walks are never needed again.

That’s a commercial I’d like to see.

Maybe I’d be happier if I didn’t know better.  If I still believed in the power of hope as those in the commercial, but hope without research leaves us nowhere and nowhere, like being stuck on my mat, sucks.

We need to gather all our strength, our collective voices and push.  Maybe together, we’ll get somewhere.  Maybe hope will spin into action.  I have to believe that.

I’m starting today with Breast Cancer Action’s “Think Before You Pink” webinar and seriously considering attending the National Breast Cancer Coalition summit in Washington, DC this coming May to learn how I can help change the conversation.

It’s a start.

Surrounded

It amazes me there are people on this planet who don’t think about breast cancer every waking moment, or at the very least, once a day.  It’s inconceivable to me that such a life exists.  I seem to be surrounded by it constantly. Even if I wanted to, there’s no getting away from it.
So, it came as no surprise to see The Huffington Post piece by Fran Visco, President of the National Breast Cancer Coalition, state breast cancer kills someone in this country every 14 minutes.  I personally know each and every one of them.
Well, it feels like that sometimes.
I often like to think I’ve had my share; mother, aunt, sister-in-law’s mom, the young wife of a good friend — all gone. All died after their cancer metastasized.  How many people do I need to know before it leaves my life for good? No answer as it reaches out to bloggers and just the other day, an old high school friend of the same sister-in-law, succumbs at the ripe old age of 46.
I’m 47.  My mother was 49 when first diagnosed.  I feel like I’m walking among land mines and it’s harder and harder to step safely, because in spite of my early detection, I don’t believe I’m cured.  I fear I’ll be walking around one day, only to have my whole life blow up in my face.  Where’s the good in early detection when nearly 25% of early stage breast cancer metastasize and can’t be cured?  Does awareness matter if the outcome is the same?

See the girl in the puffy blue jacket, 4th from the right?  That’s me.  See the red haired girl next to me?  That’s Dina. We’re about sixteen.  When Dina was 34 years old her physician was sure the lump in her breast was a cyst.  It couldn’t possibly be breast cancer.  She was too young and Dina believed that.  Why wouldn’t she?  In 1998, breast cancer awareness wasn’t the groundswell it is today and every product on the market had yet to turn pink.

When her lump was still there 10 months later, the same physician told Dina to alert her gynecologist during her annual exam.  Which she did…two months later.

One year after initially telling her physician about a lump in her breast, Dina was diagnosed with Stage IV breast cancer. The cancer had metastasized to her lungs, liver and bones.  She didn’t stand a chance.

The girl next to me in that photo, holding my hand, died of Metastatic breast cancer.  We had no way of knowing our fate on that day.  I’d learn all about breast cancer, up close and personal, three years later when my mother found her lump, but Dina wouldn’t learn for nearly twenty years when her own lump was finally biopsied.

Too late.

Ironic, really.  Two lives, starting on the same path, only to split off in very different directions.  At 19 years old, breast cancer became a huge part of my life and I’ve lived my years thinking about it, watching it’s effect on loved ones, almost waiting for it to touch me.  I knew its power because I had witnessed it first hand, several times over, but Dina didn’t.

Would the outcome differ if Dina had known more?  Who can say?  Sometimes knowing…isn’t enough.  Many times, in fact, as Stage I inexplicably morphs into Stage IV.  Awareness may have helped Dina for a short time, but it wouldn’t save her from Metastatic breast cancer and MBC isn’t curable.

It is my hope Metastatic Breast Cancer becomes a household term the way “Awareness” has.  Maybe if MBC can find a foothold in the minds of those that can do something.  Anything…talk about it, blog about it, raise funds for research on par with education and awareness campaigns…

Then maybe we won’t need a Stage IV, or any Stages.  Maybe people will stop dying every 14 minutes and maybe future generations can grow up wondering what all the fuss was about.