Thursday, October 1, 2009


When it first happens you don’t cry. You can’t. The shock of it all leaves you doubled over in terror. You don’t have a cogent thought. Your mind bounces from one horrid scenario to another. The what-ifs you create in your mind make you feel as if you will drown in them.

Then they come. First, your family and friends ask you what will happen next. You have no idea and that brings on more fear. Then, you see a new doctor who explains it all to you in a language that resembles English, but the words are unfamiliar, daunting, and terrifying. As they explain to you all the things they are about to do to you your heart begins to race. Between each pounding heartbeat, you plan your escape. You could leave this office. You could go to another town. No one would have to know. Then you remember, IT will come with you, follow you, stalk you and try to kill you no matter where you try to hide. So you give in and listen. You find yourself signing papers agreeing to have body parts removed, to have poison pumped into your blood and to have radioactive beams burn through your skin.

You know you will be forever and unalterably changed. Some things will return to normal, but you will never, ever, be the same woman before it happened. There is a loss of innocence, of peace, of self, of the ability to dream.

And then it happens. You see a child and the tears finally come. If it is your child you cry because of the future, how much longer will you be their mom? What milestones will you be around for? And which ones will you miss? If you don’t have children you realize you have lost your chance. You won’t ever be a mom. The dreams you had as a girl growing into a woman have now been cancelled.

Each tear feels like it is washing away your capacity for infinite hope. Everything you touch has a caveat now. There are no guarantees. But you do what they tell you. You endure the surgeries, the chemotherapy and the radiation. You find a strength in you that you never knew you had. You do everything you can to stay healthy. You have saved your life, for now. But you saved your new life. The old you can never be reclaimed because she exists on a different planet. She didn’t worry about the future in the same way you do now. She worried about how many people would be coming to the house on Christmas Eve, you worry you won’t be there next Christmas Eve.

We are stronger than other women because we were forced to be. We had no choice but to be brave. It is like being in the rain. We were going to get wet anyway. Some women got lucky and had umbrellas, we were caught off guard. Our whole lives before IT happened seemed like a dream and with one sentence, we were awakened to a sharp and clear realism with no fuzzy edges to it. We wish we could go back to the dream of our past, but we know that will never be.

So we move forward. We find at our most fragile and terrifying moments that we are not alone in a vast, dark ocean. There are others, just like us, right there - reaching out their hands to us. We grab on and hold tight. Sometimes we don’t have to say a word because we simply know, with a single look, what the other is thinking. More join us. There is warmth and comfort and strength in our numbers. We may not have our old lives any longer, but we have our new lives with our new family and soon the war stories end about each of our battles, and you can hear faint laughter. You feel light again, human again. You share a story about work, someone gives you a recipe, another just found a great place to buy shoes. War talk turns into girl talk. We feel less dread. We find ourselves smiling more. Others have been through this and we can too.

When the talking stops, and a content silence falls over the group as we sit and muse about our lives, we discover something. There isn’t anything pretty, sexy or pink about what we just went through. None of us are wearing pink. We don’t have our lives wrapped in ribbons. If we need a blender we buy one that works well that we can afford, not one that a corporation will profit off our disease from.

After we have buried sister after sister who died because she ran out of options, or the poison attacked her healthy organs, or she was diagnosed too late for any intervention, we know that a strip of pink satin wouldn’t have helped them. The color of hope is in a test tube in a lab somewhere, someplace.

So when we are asked to lick a yogurt lid to cure our disease, we say, no, thank you. We will give our money to the scientist who is going to save our daughter’s lives. They need all the money they can get, not a token check that has been divided seveteen ways after 5% has “been donated to breast cancer.”

Real breast cancer is a nightmare. It isn’t cute, it isn’t trendy, it isn’t something that should be taken lightly. It is time for corporate america to stop hijaking this horrid disease as a marketing campaign. Your base is dying at the rate of one every eleven minutes.

It is fear, pain, loss, horror, strength and resilience. It is not cute. Pass on the pink toilet paper. Find an NIH lab and donate to the researcher working on ending this disease.

Because when you or your wife or your daughter gets diagnosed, the last thing you think about is pink.

Save the future of the women in this world. Cut the pink and give directly to research.

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