I have hated October for about five years now. The most awful part is I used to love October. The leaves were turning, you could wear sweaters, it was cool enough for the air to be crisp but not so cold that your nose got raw -- it was awesome.
And then breast cancer struck. October went from being the month of fall leaves to the month of pink. And I hated it. For a long time, I couldn't tell you why. I just knew I had to grit my teeth and change the channel a lot during the month of October. Because you're not allowed to hate a month devoted to trying to save women's lives.
But I have finally pinpointed why this pink month drives me crazy. It's because of its failure to understand what all of this awareness does to breast cancer's most silent victims -- women that live with the threat of breast cancer hanging over their heads. The daughters and granddaughters of women who have fought this deadly disease. Women like me.
The chance that I'm going to get breast cancer at some point in my life is high -- well over 50 percent. My maternal grandmother had breast cancer, my mom had breast cancer. It's all but certain that I will too.
So, because I'm a planner, I've thought about it -- a lot. I've thought about whether I will take my husband with me to the doctor's appointment (I don't think I will -- I don't want to unnecessarily worry him). I've thought about how to tell my future children at every age (still haven't landed on a way I'm happy with). I've thought about what kind of surgery to get, how willing I'll be to try chemotherapy. I write letters to children I don't have. Because I've never been able to shake the feeling that I might not be around to help them when they need it. And because I silently fret and plan and try and push down the worry, I don't want a month where everywhere I turn I see reminders. Reminders of a battle I don't want to fight. Reminders of a battle I might lose.
Now I know the other side of this coin: If I'm so worried, why don't I help find a cure? That's what all of this is (hypothetically) for right?
Because I can't. The thought of it paralyzes me with fear and grief. I can't be strong for women who have so bravely fought this disease. I absolutely can't be strong for women who are fighting this disease -- because it takes me back to my mom fighting. It took everything I had to be strong for my mom while she was fighting and when she was in remission. It takes everything I have now to be strong for myself. I don't have any strength left over to give. Some will say that's self-absorbed. I don't think it is. I think it's self-aware. I know what I can't handle. I can't handle The Family Stone, and I can't handle walking for the cure. I can't handle it because I can't think about it. If I think about it, it brings all this terror bubbling to the surface.
I'm terrified of what this disease might do to me someday. Terrified of what it might do to my husband -- to our relationship. I'm terrified that even if I survive, I'm still going to die. Because that's what happened before. My mom technically survived breast cancer. She is alive and thriving. But she also died.
The mom I knew for 20 years died in that hospital. I didn't recognize her. For the first year after cancer, I tried to treat her like the mom I used to know -- and when that didn't work, I just let our relationship fall apart. I'm not proud of that, but I didn't know how to relate to her anymore. It has taken us years to get back to a semblance of our pre-cancer relationship, but we'll never be like we were. I'm afraid that's going to happen to me. I'm scared that no matter what happens to me physically, this cancer will rob me of who I am, which to me is a fate worse than death. I don't want my children... my husband... my friends... to wonder where I went.
A lot of days it feels like no matter what happens I lose. If I die, my family will be devastated. But if I live and they don't see pre-cancer me? They're still devastated. Either way I lose. I know this might seem like "doom and gloom." And I swear most of the time, I'm a happy bubbly person. I've even been called a Pollyanna. October does this to me. The month of pink does this to me.
So keep walking. Keep fundraising. And if you wear pink ribbons, I'll understand and be happy that you're trying to help find a cure. But maybe don't bring that pink travel mug to work this month? Maybe take a friend who might have this disease in her future out for a glass of wine and a little non-pink fun. I'm not asking anyone to stop trying find a cure. I'm just asking for a little understanding. And maybe a glass of wine.