It was April 7th. I spent the night in a hospital conference room – an event for work – smiling and making conversation with my families; laughing with the kids and helping them artfully express their hopes and dreams for their future while trying desperately to temper fears for my own future. Nobody knew that I had spent the last few days in the medical offices adjacent to this building.
Breathe. Just keep breathing.
It was April 8th. The call would come today, but when? The waiting was excruciating. I had to keep moving. I had to keep breathing. I had to work – work would keep me focused. And so I walked into an elementary school where I was expected to teach students about Type 1 Diabetes and how they could help research change lives. This I could focus on. This would keep me breathing.
And then it all began to happen.
I looked up from my laptop to see teachers and staff filing in one by one, every one of them wearing a ‘Sparrows Nest‘ t-shirt. My palms suddenly sweaty and my head dizzy, I fought the urge to run. I was outraged and terrified and sick to my stomach. Was it the shirts? Was it the support these teachers were showing for this local charity? How could I be angry about a nonprofit that helps feed the families of cancer patients? Why was that suddenly a vile thought, a nauseating concept? Why did I suddenly feel like I was surrounded by hoards of people who already knew the outcome of the phone call that was about to come?
And then it came.
I muddled through my presentation, left the school building, sat down in my car to catch my breath….and my phone rang. It’s going to be fine. It’s not what you think. This was all just a coincidence.
“Unfortunately, the biopsy showed invasive ductal carcinoma…blah, blah….breast cancer.”
Breathe. Breathe. Breathe.
It’s been six months, 16 rounds of chemotherapy (the first 4 treatments fondly nicknamed ‘the red devil’ by patients before me), multiple scans, biopsies, infusions and tests since then – all leaving my mind and body spent. I’ve slowly come to recognize that there is no ‘end’ to any kind of cancer diagnosis and now, while I prepare for surgery, I am surrounded by the ‘pink’ of Breast Cancer Awareness month – Pink-tober.
This month – my birthday month, my favorite holiday month, my favorite of all the months – I find myself angry and annoyed by the constant reminders. The pink t-shirts, the pink ribbons, the pink scarves, the pink football players and the pink cheerleaders – they are all annoying! Irrational? Perhaps. But on a good day, when I’m surrounded by good people and enjoying good thoughts and forgetting, for just a moment, that I have cancer (fucking cancer!), I don’t want to be made ‘aware.’ Because, you see, my bald head and my ugly infusion port and my neuropathic fingers and my bruised fingernails and my altered tastebuds and my crazy thoughts – all of those things make me ‘aware’ of this God-awful disease every single second of every single day.
But today is Miles of Hope day at school and my daughters were eager to don their pink attire – even their pink hair – in support of breast cancer awareness and in support of me. I didn’t tell them that I found their pink-ness annoying and I didn’t forbid them from participating. Instead, I made sure that their pink shirts were washed and ready and I helped them put pink highlights in their hair. And then I sent them off to school with a donation that I hope will further research and stack the odds in their favor as they get older. That thought alone can occasionally bring me to my knees. And then I decided that – maybe just for today – I’m going to change my outlook. Today I’m going to give up on being annoyed. Today I am going to focus, instead, on the amazing support that has enveloped me since that breathless April day.
It’s Pink-tober and I’m still breathing.