Updated: Oct 17
Essay by Patti Callahan
October 7, 2020 Issue 10
October is breast cancer awareness month.
But for some of us, they say about 1 in 8 of us, every month is breast cancer awareness month. Because, in my experience, we who have been diagnosed, are always aware of it. Even when we are healed and even after complete recovery, there is a lingering awareness.
So I thought I’d touch briefly this month on BC awareness, talk about what we sometimes don’t like to talk about – the fear of those words: breast cancer.
I’m not here to nag you about getting your mammogram. There are enough people reminding you, right? So I will just tell you – I did get my mammogram. And even when they found that early lump, and even after they biopsied that lump, I swore it was okay.
One of my best/worst qualities is that I have incredible capacity for denial or I can call it optimism. So, I didn’t dwell on it. I was at a speaking engagement in Atlanta the night before my result’s appointment with my dear Mary Kay Andrews, and she asked me about the bandage poking out from my neckline, and I told her,
“It was a biopsy, but I know it’s fine. Really, it’s fine. It’s nothing to worry about. I know it’s okay.”
Mary Kay looked at me with that look (and you all know the look because you’ve seen it here on Friends and Fiction), and she said, “Well, then okay.”
But it wasn’t okay.
The next day, I waited for almost two hours in the doctor’s office, growing angry about my wasted hours (I’ve always had a weird anxiety over wasted hours or days, which is why car pool killed me), until they took me back and the doctor said, “It’s cancer.”
And there I was, an educated woman, a graduate degree nurse, a professional and do you know what I said? What profound beautiful statement I spat out?
I said, “Not the real kind, right?”
As if there is any other kind.
What I wanted, what I needed, was for this to be the kind of thing where it’s cancer but not really. Like pre-cancer, or a thought of cancer, or a warning sign of cancer. But it wasn’t, it was cancer.
After he assured me that it was the real kind, I did all kinds of embarrassing things, like curse and drop my head to the examining table and cry. Eventually, after he drew pictures and told me what I had and talked about options, I found myself in the hallway where I fell to the floor and curled into a little ball. I said to my husband,
“I’m not the kind of woman who can do this. I’m not…like that. I’m not strong enough.”
Well, it turns out that sometimes we aren’t what we can be until we need to be.
I am healed, and seven years out. It was a bumpy journey and it’s a long story that maybe someday I will tell.
So, now, on second thought, I take it back, I AM here to nag you to get your mammogram. Now! Go get one. Stop procrastinating. Do the beautiful and healthy thing – take care of yourself.
With great big love,
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