If I can be candid, truthfully my guard is a little worn down as I’m writing this week’s post. I’m optimistic, and I’m a tough cookie, but I’d be lying if I said I haven’t been distracted with job searching. I’ve also been granting myself permission to take this unique moment of transition in my life as an opportunity to reflect on my blog and where I plan to head with my writing next. That being said, when I discovered that Nancy Stordahl, author and founder of Nancy’s Point, had released a Summer Blogging Challenge, I thought why not. I hope participating in this challenge helps clear my head and also give you all a chance to learn a little more about me.
1. Share anything you want about your cancer diagnosis (or your loved one’s). Share your age, cancer type, stage, when you were diagnosed, family history (if any), your reaction, how you learned the news, or whatever you’re comfortable sharing.
My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 38 years old. I was around 12 months old at the time of her diagnosis. As far as we can tell, breast cancer does not run in our family history, so her diagnosis was a bit of an anomaly. I was found to not carry a BRAC or any known genetic mutation that would make me susceptible to breast cancer, which makes her case seem more isolated. They initially attempted a lumpectomy but it failed. She had a mastectomy, and ultimately a double mastectomy. She was diagnosed with stage IV cancer in 1997. She had a bone marrow transplant around that time. She was told by doctors she had around 12 months to live. In what seemed like a miracle, her cancer subsided for a few years, before it peaked out its ugly head again in the spring/summer of 2001. It wasn’t until her final bout with cancer that I was aware she had been sick; I was 8 years old when her cancer returned. The cancer spread to her lungs; her lungs collapsed. It wasn’t until it spread to her liver that she died peacefully among family and close friends on February 21, 2002. She was 46 years old.
2. What is the most outrageous thing someone has said to you about your (or your loved one’s) cancer?
Wow, that’s tough given the fact that in a lot of ways, people have always seemed guarded about what they say around me because I was so young when she died. There are outrageous things I’ve heard people say about breast cancer as a whole, but the comments weren’t aimed towards me or my my mom specifically. There are a few instances I can think of where people have said outrageous things to me as a result of my mom passing away, but those things are much too personal to reveal on a public blog. One moment I do feel comfortable with sharing though involved a teacher at school about a few months after my mom died. All the teachers across my elementary school must have been made aware of my home life, and they’d awkwardly try to nose into my business. One teacher came up to me in the hallway and with a forced grin painted on his face, he asked me if I was happy, or if I was doing ok, something like that. I just remember feeling so disgusted, feeling like these teachers had no idea how to even attempt to come down to my level and just treat me like a person, a real fucking person that lost their mom. I might have been only 9 years old at the time, but I was very much aware of the deep pain I clenched in my chest. I think moments like that led me to feeling like an outcast at a pretty young age.
3. What is your biggest cancer pet peeve? I know it’s hard to choose, as there are many to pick from, right? But what irks you the most?
When I’m writing my blog posts each week, at times I try to choose my words carefully. But today I’m just not in the mood so I’m going to go out and say it. I hate, from the bottom of my heart I detest, that breast cancer is made out to be a happy pink disease. I know that to some people, the optimistic rhetoric, upbeat music, and pink-colored t-shirts, tutus, pom-poms, you name it, gives them a sense of hope. And hope resonates with people and motivates them to donate to charitable causes that benefit breast cancer research, awareness, and treatment. Now I’m not here to try and tell people not to feel that way. But for me, especially as I’ve gotten older, I’ve felt like it was just a stab in the heart whenever I see the breast cancer cupcakes and ribbon giveaways. It just makes me feel so god damn lonely. And before anyone tries to tell me to cheer up, to feel hopeful for something, don’t. Just don’t. I’m entitled to feel how I want to feel. I’m otherwise a regular twenty something with a bright future and generally happy disposition, but don’t try to change how I feel. The dance music and pink ribbon explosion just doesn’t give me hope. Hope won’t bring my mom back.
4. What is something you want others to know specifically about breast cancer?
Early detection does not necessarily mean you’re going to be automatically cured of breast cancer. There’s such a push in breast cancer awareness campaigns that stress early detection will essentially save your life, but depending on your individual circumstances that’s not always true. In fact. breast cancer is not even a one size fits all kind of thing either, so any sort of blanket statements regarding detection and treatment should all just be taken as guidelines, nothing more.
5. If applicable, do you worry about recurrence rarely, from time to time or a lot? What is your biggest worry today, right now, this minute?
After her stage IV diagnosis, my mom spent the rest of her life counting her blessings. I feel pretty comfortable in saying that anyone who reaches stage IV begins to worry about their mortality. Prior to her ’97 diagnosis, my mom worked as a kindergarten teacher. But afterwards, my parents jointly decided that my mom would take a leave of absense from work. It was those final few years that I remember fondly, when I learned what my mom’s laughter sounded like and what her smile looked like. She knew her days were almost certainly numbered, and recurrence was nearly inevitable.
6. Do you feel cancer has made you a better person? Yes, I know this a loaded question. If you do, specifically in what way?
I mean, wow that’s a hard question. After she died, I went through troubling periods of self doubt and anxiety. But as far as I sank, I flied just as high. I graduated high school as salutatorian of my class, I went to a top 50 college, I earned my Master’s at the age of 23. I’ve ran a marathon, travelled the world, met my fiancé and incredible friends, I made out OK and was compelled to live the life I’ve lived so far because I needed to stay motivated in order to not feel like the world was tearing me apart, or that I was tearing myself apart. I’m learning now to live with my emotions instead of burying them. So I don’t know, does that make me a better person? Perhaps you can be the judge.
7. What is your favorite cancer book? (No, I’m not fishing for mentions of mine!)
I really haven’t read any to be honest since I’m not directly impacted by cancer. If anything though, during my darkest times Ive turned to books on Buddhism and meditation, Thich Nhat Hanh is just a dream to me.
8. Besides your family, where do you turn for emotional support?
After years of avoiding it, seeking help from a therapist did me wonders in terms of alleviating the weight on my shoulders. But as a whole, I turn inwards to find the support I need. The Buddhist and yoga communities I encountered during my time in Miami really helped illuminate my inner light. When I’m feeling distressed, it’s usually because I’m tuning myself out, and only when I tune back in do I begin to feel truly grounded.
9. How many cancer blogs do you read and why do you read them?
I actively keep up with about half a dozen or so. I wish I could read more, but at the excuse of making this answer sound like a cop out, there’s just only so many hours in the day, I read them because I feel for the first time in my life like I’m not alone – that there are other women out there around the world that are disgruntled by the breast cancer awareness movement and empowered to speak up. The tight knit breast cancer blogging community has given me strength I didn’t know I had.
10. Do you call yourself an advocate? If so, what drives you?
I would say I’m an advocate in my own right. While I currently don’t actively volunteer with like-minded organizations, my writing is certainly advocacy based. I hope to strengthen my niche in writing about conscientious breast cancer marketing. I’ve been floored with how disingenuous many cause-related breast cancer marketing campaigns there are. I am driven by the thought that if breast cancer marketing is here to stay, we can all play a small but pivotal part in holding participating charities, non-profits and companies accountantable to how our donations are spent.