Breast cancer awareness: mission accomplished

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I felt edgy last month because it was a one-year anniversary for me. One year since I wrote in this space that being diagnosed with breast cancer feels like: “You’re driving along, all comfy and confident of the journey. The rest of your life lies ahead. Then, quite suddenly, the car lurches; the tires fly off, the gas tank catches fire and you go freefalling over a cliff, your hair in flames.”

I was never one for understatement, was I? Looking back at that description, I think it was right on the mark — for me. Other women I know are more sanguine about their diagnosis and treatment. For them, it feels like a blip on the screen that is their ongoing life. These women weren’t raised by my mother. In my family, hysteria is always the reaction of choice to any challenge.

In truth, these days I feel different, mostly in good ways, but I don’t want to be treated differently. It makes me uncomfortable when some well-meaning person leans into me and says, “And how are you?” It’s a reminder of something I don’t want to think about more than I already do.

I know I’m being impossible. So maybe that’s one of the unstated side effects of radiation: You becomes impossible. The other side effect: So what?

And why, you ask, do I write about it if I’m trying not to think about it? Mostly because I have to. When I sit down to write my weekly column, there’s a small lineup of possible subjects that call to me. All last month I was thinking about breast cancer issues, and I realized today that I wanted to write about it when the month was over.

What have I learned over the past year? I haven’t come through a crucible and emerged a better person. I just emerged, and that’s enough.

I still don’t want to march in pink parades or wear T-shirts that say “The girls.” But I do feel deeply connected to the women I sat with in all those waiting rooms over all those weeks. There is sweet relief in a burden shared.

The first week of October, I ran into a woman who said she has been cancer-free for 12 years. Her advice, as she jogged by, was to avoid the magazine stories and the TV specials and the breast cancer blogs, especially during “high season,” meaning October. It was the best advice I didn’t follow.
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