October 2012. We've been glowing pink all month, celebrating victories and being mindful of the need to eradicate breast cancer.
This year's pink ribbon caused me to reflect upon my aunt's double mastectomy, because after ten years of remission, the cancer returned this year... in the exact same place, on the exact same breast.
During pink month 2011, I smiled big 'The Grinch who stole Christmas' smiles at every pink ribbon I saw, even in the grocery store, shopping for pink ribbon clad cleaning products (resulting in concerned looks from other patrons) but I couldn't help myself. My aunt's milestone, for me, signified a definitive victory over breast cancer, for her and for us all.
This year, in the wake of my aunt's double mastectomy, I realize that what I celebrated last year was not purely a victory, but more a pink victory.
Does that feel semantic-y? I understand, but it is not meant to be. The word 'victory' invokes a sense of permanence; something conquered and irrefutably bested, however pink victories do not always allow for that permanence in defeat.
I was home in Toronto a few days ago, talking with and listening to my warm, soft-spoken aunt. To any casual observer there would not have been anything distinguished about her, or our exchange, but little did they know that we were all in the presence of a decorated general in the pink army.
Aunt Jennifer explained to me that after feeling "an on and off sensation of heaviness in the breast" she decided to check in with her physician. Though nothing was initially detected, more tests revealed 'irregular cells,' beginning a new battle. What followed was fear, courage, family prayers, a double mastectomy, emotional & physical recovery, a reinstated clean bill of health and...
Right now: lunch with her niece... life as usual.
I now understood that this simple lunch date, this normalcy, after another open battle with breast cancer was the victory, the definitive pink victory.
So why should the casual observer be expected to recognize and salute this general, when her niece, someone with knowledge of the battle is only now really grasping the significance and might of pink blows to the proverbial Goliath?
They should not. It is for me and others who have been privileged to witness this fortitude up close to proclaim it loudly so that all will hear, therefore... I salute my aunt Jennifer Seymour and all those who have achieved a pink victory this year.
Goliath is wobbling guys. For those of you not familiar with the story of David and Goliath found within Judeo/Christian/Muslim faith texts, allow my to fill you in: in the end, Goliath dies and is beheaded.
We'll find a cure for breast cancer. Fight on.
Below is a picture taken a few days ago (from right to left), of General Jennifer Seymour, her niece Alyson Renaldo and Alyson's godmother, the general's sister Ann Marie Seymour.
"I try to stay positive and pray each day that I will get better and stronger and thank God for all the progress I have made. With the on going support of family, friends and especially my dear sister, I will make it." -- General Jennifer Seymour
Let's hear it for this pink victory!
Pink Cheat Sheet
I had a few basic questions about breast cancer. I reached out to a friend of mine, a scientist, a biochemist/biophysicist, Dr. Mohamad Abbani. He launched into detailed science speak, replete with 'proteins' and things binding to them until he caught sight of the horror in my eyes as I tried to decipher the techno-babble.
He changed his approach to accommodate his right-brained friend.
In case anybody else had these same questions, I thought I would share.
Alyson: What is the difference between breast cancer and say lung cancer? Cancer is cancer, is it not? If we find a cure for lung cancer, does that not knock out breast cancer as well?
Mohamad: It would get us a step closer, but it would not 'knock it out.'
As we all know, breasts serve different functions than lungs, for instance, but it is not often considered that that difference stems from the fact that cells which make up breast tissue are not the same as those which make up lung tissue. Now, at the cellular level, the cancers and their underlying causes are noticeably different.
Alyson: In so many 'studies' we constantly hear this or that 'may cause cancer,' yet I'm told that we don't yet know what causes cancer. Why are these studies so quick to link everything to an illness whose origins have not yet been determined?
Mohamad: Scientists, in their quests to determine causes of cancer often report the correlative result of their studies, which is still powerful evidence; a strong suggestion of cause. However, it is not 100 percent conclusive because we cannot yet go directly down to the molecular level and confirm it.
Alyson: How important is to discover breast cancer early? I mean, what does it matter if the lump in a breast is big or small. You can still just remove it, can't you?
Mohamad: Actually, early detection is extremely important. One of the most effective ways of dealing with cancer these days is to focus on prevention because discovering cancer early drastically increases the chances of remission without the need for chemotherapy and its taxing side effects.
Size is not the only factor, what is of concern is if the cancer has gone beyond the breast tissue or not. Cancer is characterized by stages rather than size. Stages refer to the progression and invasiveness of the tumour. In addition to early detection, genetic screens can identify patients with higher risks. Once a cancer is genetically identified, physicians can make better treatment decisions to make sure a patient is getting a drug that is effective for their cancer versus drugs that may not be effective to their specific cancer type.
Alyson: I'm hungry, did you cook?
Mohamad: Yup, your timing is impeccable and suspect...set the table.
Dr. Abbani wants everyone to know that, "Help is on the way. We keep making in roads. We're working tirelessly..."
Dr. Mohamad Abbani is a postdoctoral research fellow at the centre for applied molecular medicine at USC's Keck School of Medicine.