Tuesday, October 21, 2014

30 days of facts, Day 21

Having breast cancer means being ‘aware’ every day, not just in October

WE ARE AWARE. Every day, every minute, we are aware we've had cancer. Whether it's looking in the mirror and seeing our scars, being in pain from ongoing treatment or lymphedema, or any number of other ways our bodies are kind enough to remind us, we never forget.

Saturday was my 3-year "cancerversary" and I took the day off from being immersed in the conversation, or so I thought. I didn't post a fact, I didn't think about a blog post, I didn't do any research. Our teenage son was on a band trip, so my husband and I spent the day together. Among other things, we drove to a larger town than ours to go to the mall because he needed dress shoes. As we walked around the mall, I realized that I couldn't "take the day off" because the pink reminders were everywhere. In one store signs let us know that they would ask us to round up our purchase for breast cancer awareness and I whispered to him "please, say no" (he would have anyway). As we walked, I held my breath to keep the tears in. At one point I burst out to him "I can't escape!" because the pink was ubiquitous. 

At the (thankfully) last store, I was sitting while he tried on shoes. The lady who was helping us - I'd guess she was in her early 60s - asked what I'd done to my wrist when she saw the compression glove. I said "I had breast cancer. This is a side effect." She looked like I'd slapped her, as she took a step back, staring wide-eyed. "I had lymph nodes removed, and now I have lymphedema. My arm and hand swell if I don't wear these." I peeled back the glove cuff to show her the top of the not-as-visible sleeve. "I've never heard of that," she said, followed by "but you're ok now?" and I raised my hand and said "you know, mostly, aside from this." And she said, with hope in her voice, "but that will go away!" and I shook my head and told her no, unless a cure is found, it's permanent. She couldn't accept it. As we paid and left, she leaned over to me and stage-whispered "you get better FAST!"

I asked my husband if I should lie when people ask me. If it's overwhelming to strangers to hear I had cancer. I was diagnosed at 44 and am now 47, but am fortunate to look much younger than the years I feel every day and I guess they don't expect an answer like that from someone young. He said no, and that people ask more often now because the glove is so visible. I wear a plain beige sleeve, and before I needed the glove it was rare anyone noticed it. (Sleeves are available in all kinds of designs, including those that look like tattoos. People think that since I like to dye my hair crazy colors, I would wear a sleeve like those, but I would rather be known for my hair than my cancer!) He said I answer people factually without word-barfing on them, and that it's good, though he knows it's hard. 

I've had health issues most of my adult life, but have always been private about them. If I was having a bad day, I stayed home so nobody would see. Now, though, it's always visible. I don't get to make that choice. Sometimes it's good - I can be an educator. But other times, I want to forget, just for a little while. And as the author of the above-linked article says, I never can. Not in October, and not the other 11 months of the year. Pinktober is such a disservice to those of us who cancer has touched in any way, and it doesn't do anything to actually help anyone. 

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