When I took the job as Living editor here at the Huffington Post this past July, I did so because I wanted to provide a platform for voices of the voiceless and create a hub of important and meaningful dialogue around issues that affect our inner lives (spirituality, psychology), quality of life (relationships, health), and connection with the world (giving, service).
So it's fitting that my first blog post, after much agonizing over how to introduce myself to you, comes at the beginning of Breast Cancer Month--or as I like to call it Breast Health Month (thank you for that brilliant rewording, Dr. Christiane Northrup!).
As I write I am on a pink Delta airplane on the second half of a round trip flight from New York to Washington, D.C. where, for the first leg of the trip, I was in the midst of 60 hooting and hollering pink-swathed, bodacious, bad ass, beautiful, beautiful, breast cancer survivors--and their queen, Melissa Etheridge (scroll down to watch her perform "I Run For Life" on the flight).
Delta, HardRock, and the Breast Cancer Research Foundation partnered up to christen the tower at JFK airport a glowing pink (which it will remain for the entirety of October) and treat Delta's breast cancer survivor flight attendants to a private in-flight concert by the notorious Mrs. E. before delivering them to our nation's Capitol.
Etheridge told me she used medical marijuana, lymph massage, and acupuncture--as well as chemotherapy during her cancer treatment ("In 10 years we're going to say chemotherapy is the worst, most barbaric thing,"), but also mentioned how breast cancer affected her inner life. "Before cancer I was driven by my desire to succeed, but when I got there it caused me great stress because there was nothing there! Cancer focused me. It made me fall in love with music again. Every moment of life is to find joy. And I am in charge of that. I am in charge of my health, there's no celebrity helpline for that."
It was her message of self-reliance that permeated the evening. "We will not stop not only until there is a cure, but until there's an understanding of what health is in this country," Etheridge said among a sea of cheering pink ladies--and some lads.
J.R. Menendez, 47, a Delta flight attendant from Miami, FL was diagnosed with breast cancer in 2002 through a routine physical. At first, "It felt surreal, this was a woman's disease, it's not supposed to affect men," he said. Menendez is in remission and has a passionate message for men. "Men: Please, when you go to the doctor, ask him/her to check your chest," he said. "Don't be embarrassed."
But not everyone got his or her diagnosis traditionally. Karen Perry, 46, a Delta flight attendant based in Phoenix, AZ found out she had breast cancer by a fluke. "This sounds silly, but my intuition told me to get a mammogram even though my annual physical was normal," she said. Two lumpectomies (and 11 years) later she is in remission, but is opting to have her left breast removed later this year "so I don't have to be afraid anymore."
Perry told me she helped herself when she was sick by putting herself in a healing state of mind, maintaining a positive mental outlook, and pampering her body. This gave her a general feeling of being well, even though she knew she was sick.
Her advice? "Listen to your body and intuition. Be kind to yourself. We are all responsible for our own health. If you think something's wrong, it probably is. Don't put it off. Get a diagnosis and have your fears dispelled or catch the problem sooner."
Overheard in flight:
Survivor flight attendant #1: "When your hair grew back was it curly?"
Survivor flight attendant #2: "Yes, but then after a few years it straightened out"
Survivor flight attendant #1: "I will never complain about a bad hair day again"
But now the hustle and bustle is over. Now it is quiet. It's just my thoughts and me, and the reverberations of what happened here not even an hour ago.
I am in awe of the strength of the passengers tonight and the pride with which they held their pink carnations and waved them around in celebration. It makes me think about why I said "no thanks" when offered a flower as if in some way I was saying no to breast cancer, politely. Perhaps it holds more meaning for me as my doctor recently found a lump in my left breast that we're "watching".
The evening will stay with me a long time. There is life after a diagnosis. Sometimes it's a woman laughing in a pink wig, sometimes it's the pause and gratitude for a bad hair day, and sometimes it's an empowering song performed over 10,000 feet in the clouds.
Melissa, thank you for inspiring us all. This post is for you.
Let's all keep running for life!
Follow Alana B. Elias Kornfeld on Twitter: www.twitter.com/alanaekornfeld