I’m still not completely sure how this all works.
Before expanding into my current thought process it’s important to acknowledge some will read my thoughts and perhaps feel as if I’m in denial. The truth of the matter is I’m not in denial but rather learning what piece I am to this puzzle known worldwide as Breast Cancer.
I shared in a previous column my struggle with accepting I had become a “purple shirt” (the T-shirt color worn by cancer survivors during ACS Relay For Life events). Now, journeying through Breast Cancer Awareness Month, I’m struck a bit odd once again.
Suddenly the word “survivor” is attached to my name and I’m somehow in this club of sorts, I never intended to sign up for.
Not to be confused, I think it’s wonderful the amount of love and support given to cancer survivors and their families. Now on the other side of it, however, it is indeed a bit overwhelming as well as off putting (for lack of a better word).
Oh sure, I do indeed have Stage 3 Breast Cancer and I’m still upright and kicking, so “survivor” fits – I guess. The Breast Cancer Club and culture however, I’m truly sort of struggling with. I share this not to diminish or make light of the amazing support, openness and willingness so many have brought my way. In my own way, I hope to have similar effect on someone who might need it.
I share because I recognize there may just be another one or two who identify with this, just as much as I, the “survivor” deep in the hugs of the breast cancer community.
The feelings I’ve had over the days of this month, had me reflecting as to why I feel so taken aback when approached by another offering an ear or advice if I should so need it. It’s a beautiful gesture after all and as someone who has chosen to share portions of this journey openly, I would say their approaches are far from out of line.
Yet my mind wraps differently when it comes to my cancer and that’s largely due in part to the journeys I’ve taken with others I love down the cancer path. As I recently shared with a friend, the thing about cancer is no two are the same.
Okay yes I understand the diagnosis may be exactly the same, yet somehow what so many seem to forget is that no two people are the same. Each of us are genetically different be it our physical or mental state, as well as DNA make each and every cancer unique unto that person.
This epiphany came to me early on, as I leaned on my mother’s wisdom of not borrowing trouble and chose to not make another’s story comparable to my own. As a writer it’s almost instinctual to be curious about another’s journey. Yet somehow this time (for me) that was not the case.
Recognizing some might benefit from hearing my personal journey, I was quick to inform our editor I would be happy to share. So much talk on annual mammograms, yet the location of my tumor would only have been found by self-exam. My tech told me that, the day of my diagnostic mammogram.
This decision quickly opened me up to the stories of others. Cancer survivors (many) want to share their story. So too, did women learning they would be walking a similar path weeks within me sharing publicly.
I inquired, offered concern and prayers and then shared this very same information – run your own race. Try not to get wrapped into another’s cancer story, even if it’s the “same” cancer.
So here’s where this is all leading, as I reflect back on this month.
Thank you for the world, for hosting a month to bring awareness to a disease which affects so many. Thank you to all those offering love, support, encouragement and yes, even stories. Respectfully please understand not all of us love to wrap ourselves in pink for an entire month to show the world we’re survivors. Some are simply taking on the day, the week, the month with sights set on living our best life, before we were appointed to this club.
No disrespect and rock on with the waving of the pink flag, just please understand the category of the “survivor” purple shirt is indeed not one size fits all.
Now please add your monthly self-exam to your calendar.
Teresa Hammond is a staff reporter for The Oakdale Leader, The Riverbank News and The Escalon Times. She may be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or by calling 847-3021.