Tag Archives: breast cancer

A Story That Brought Tears To My Eyes {and why I’m really uncomfortable with a Facebook game}.

29 Aug

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A few weeks ago my husband, two sons and I went over to another family’s house for  a BBQ, a jump in the pool and to drink Mojitos (for the grown-ups, of course). The host family and one of the other families are long time friends of ours. The other family was one that we had only met one other time at a child’s birthday party. The birthday party had had way more guests, so it was nice that we had the opportunity to get to know them better.

I learned that the wife/mom, we will call her K, was a breast cancer survivor. I would put her age close to mine, 43. So young.

Our beautiful host wife/mom, Super J., had recently competed in her third Women’s Figure Competition, (Erg, not so sure about those things). Since I had gone to see Super J. compete, K was helping me to remember one of the other competitors who happened to be a close friend of hers and a fellow cancer survivor. K described her as the one that was a lot curvy than the other competitors in her division. K’s friend knew she wasn’t going to place, but it wasn’t about winning the competition for her. She had already won her battle against cancer. She wanted to do something that put her back into control of her body. They had similar surgical techniques used for their reconstructive surgeries, breast reconstruction with flap surgery.

Our conversation went from surgery recovery to K’s experience with chemo and the loss of her hair.  When she started pulling out clumps of hair, K told me that she had decided it was time to just shave it all off. Her friend, who had already gone through chemo and was getting her locks back stepped up to the task. K’s husband came home to find his wife and their friend in the backyard with the kids and the electric clippers. Once K’s hair was buzzed her friend inquired as to who was going to do her head next. Despite K’s insistence that that was absolutely not necessary, “Your beautiful hair has already come back in!”, her friend insisted. She got her way when she ran the clippers from the middle of her hairline to the crown of her head. No turning back. K’s husband pitched in to do the rest. It was at this point in K’s story that the tears started running down my face.

Even though I had only recently gotten to know K, it was clear to me that she was not one to feel sorry for herself or stew in troubling memories. She told me her experience in a very upbeat tone. I felt a little foolish for getting so emotional at hearing her story. But when I think of all the fears of confronting an illness like cancer, and especially when one has to wonder if they will lose the opportunity to watch their children grow up, I can’t help but get emotional. I’ve never confronted cancer myself and can only go off of accounts I have heard or read about. Accounts of bravery and patience and optimism in the face of the unknown.

As K hugged me in comfort she reassured me that she was in great health now. The cancer that attacked her breasts got its ass kicked. She also had tons of support. Every step of the way she had friends and family helping her. Shoulders to cry on, rides for her kids, meals prepared. It was her husband who she felt went without the same kind of support. He was scared and overwhelmed. Was he going to lose his beloved wife? Were his children going to lose their mother? As the man it was his job to demolish anything that threatened his family. How do you get something you can’t even see into a choke hold? There is no threat that you can hurl, no posture that you can adopt. Cancer doesn’t care.

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K’s concern for the lack of support her husband had during her battle brings to the game I just can’t get behind.

A FB friend sent me this message as part of a group message;

“Fun game for Breast Cancer Awareness! It’s that time of year again…support of breast cancer awareness! Last year’s game was writing your bra color as your status…or the way we like to have our handbag handy. Last year, so many people took part that it made national news… and the constant updating of status reminded everyone why we’re doing this and helped raise awareness! Do NOT tell any males what the status means…keep them guessing!! And please copy and paste this in a message to all your female friends. The idea is to choose the month you were born and the day you were born. Pass this on to GIRLS ONLY and let’s see how far it reaches. The last one about the bra went all over the world. YOUR STATUS SHOULD SAY: “I am going to Mexico for 21 months.” Instructions: The month you were born is the Place you are going, and the day you were born should be how many months you are gone…. January – Mexico; February – London; March – Miami; April – Dominican Republic; May – Paris; June – Rome; July – Hawaii; August – California; September – New York; October – Puerto Rico; November – Las Vegas; December – Australia.”

Now, this FB friend is more of an acquaintance, but what I know of her is that she is a very nice lady who loves her hubby and kiddos. Over the last couple of years I’ve seen similar posts on other friend’s pages, including some cousins. All lovely ladies. I’m not much for FB games or “…If you feel the same I dare you to post as your status for an hour” type posts. I’m more for hitting  the “share” button on an article  from a reputable source when I want to bring attention to a particular issue.

I’m all for awareness of diseases. So doing something that reminds us of the existence, danger and treatment options for something like breast cancer is an endeavor I can get behind. What I struggle with, in this particular situation with the FB thing, is the intentional shutting out of men. Yes, breast cancer occurs more frequently in women, but it does occur in men. For me though, it’s not even that. Women who suffer from breast cancer are usually surrounded by men. Men who love them. Fathers, husbands, sons, brothers. I just don’t see how doing a sort of “Na na na nana” type of game will help anyone. And trust me on this, we, as women may have fun with the idea of games and feel that it will tickle the funny bone of interest. But men? When they realize that they are on the joke end, if they even pay attention to it to that point, they won’t suddenly sit up and think “How could I not have been aware all this time?”. They will tune the silliness of it out. Not because they are incapable of caring, because nothing could be further from the truth. But, in my opinion and experience, the male brain just doesn’t respond to such antics.  And let’s face it, the feeling of exclusion doesn’t feel good regardless of one’s gender. Perhaps I have yet again over thought the subject. Doesn’t change how I feel at my core though.

My opinions of the differences between the male brain and the female brain aside, this is what really rubs me the wrong way about this seemingly harmless FB game. For years I have know women who have battled breast cancer, as well as women who have lost loved ones to breast cancer. But as I have gotten older, so have my peers. So has the incidence of breast cancer in my sphere of interactions. A couple of years ago a family at my sons’ school was confronted with the issue. At the time my sons were in grades 2nd and 5th. Two of the sons of  the mother who was yet another woman to receive the terrifying diagnosis of breast cancer were classmates of my boys. While I wasn’t terribly close to the family, our children tracked many grades together, my daughter had babysat a few times for them.

It is so hard to know what to say when you find out someone that someone you know, but not really well, has cancer. Or what to say to their loved ones. Have they already been bombarded with comments from others? Offers of help? Which offers are hollow, which are rock solid?  How many times have they had to patiently bide time while someone (we all know this someone) exhibits the worst case of foot in mouth, the likes of which haven’t been witnessed in decades.

Sure, husbands and fathers, they put on a strong face. Almost overnight I have seen a man’s personality go from fun, jaunty and in control to one of a man walking through a mine field. Where once his beautiful wife was the parent chatting outside of a classroom waiting for the day’s final bell to release her offspring, he instead stands. And waits. If you know anything about the male brain then you know that action is an important next step to accessing a situation. Something or someone comes at his wife or children, he will beat it down. Access level of danger, then seek to destroy. At least that has been my experience of the men in my life that are in full possession of their faculties. Action is their comfort. How does one wrap their hands around something one can not see. What verbal warnings can you deliver to cancer? You can’t negotiate with cancer. There is only waiting and praying and trusting in the doctors and treatments offered.

I can’t imagine the terror of receiving a diagnosis of breast cancer or having a loved one receive the dire news. The closest I have ever come to it is a few years back my now 20 year old daughter found a lump in one of her breasts. She was 16. While changing clothes her wrist bumped against the exact spot that a hard lump was lurking in her breast tissue. After meeting with her pediatrician, he referred us to a surgeon that specialized in breast cancer. It wasn’t that our pediatrician was overly concerned about breast cancer in our teenager, but the lump was sizable enough and hard enough that it was out of his realm of expertise. Upon examination the surgeon felt confident in what it was. A fibroadenoma. A solid, noncancerous mass that most often develop in adolescent girls and women under 30. Even though fibroadenomas are benign, and the doctor was almost 100% sure in her diagnosis, there is always the fear that there is something much more malevolent going on. Surgery was the recommended course of action. The choice to just leave it alone was an option, but removing it now would potentially avoid other problems in the future; having to go through multiple diagnoses as my daughter traveled through life and different doctors, the potential for it becoming cancerous in a few decades, as well as the impending reality that my daughter would be becoming romantically intimate in the coming years, and a hard lump might be a bit of a mood dampener. We, my daughter, her father and I, opted for surgical removal of the lump. At first my daughter was reluctant to go with the surgical option. It’s a benign lump, can’t it just be left alone? I reminded her of the reasons the doctor gave for its removal. Besides, why not put it on our tab while you can? Dammit, I wanted that thing out of her and gone.

It was a simple, same-day surgical procedure. The surgery was successful, the results from the biopsy came back just as the doctor predicted, benign. Each stone along the path was frightening nonetheless. Something had embedded itself inside our child that neither I nor her father could get at. Our daughter had to face the reality of being cut into so that something could be cut out of her. What if the doctor’s first diagnosis was wrong? What if the lump wasn’t benign? What if something went wrong with the surgery? Why was my daughter’s body betraying her? Betraying us?

I know that our small scale experience with our daughter’s fibroadenoma is a mere blip in comparison to the terror that a diagnosis of breast cancer carries. It is frightening and exhausting for the women that must fight against the cancer. To face the uncertainty, the impending onslaught of treatments designed to kill the cancer and hopefully not the host. Exhaustion, fear, anger, sickness. Facing the realty that in order to save the whole body, part of her must be cut away. Jumping from one stone to the other, each floating precariously upon a path in murky unpredictable waters. Yes, she needs support. She needs a shoulder to cry on, words of inspiration, meals prepared, the needs of her children met, a cool rag on her forehead during raging bouts of nausea. And then there are the men who would give up anything to have the women they love and rely upon be spared the fight of cancer. The husbands who must now muddle through the tasks that their wives and the mothers of their children have always made look effortless, all the while being in a near constant state of helplessness. The father who has always played the role of Superman must now wait to see if their daughter will survive the betrayal of her body. It is not a time for games. But it is a time for awareness.

So do I go onto Facebook and blurt out my opinions? To what end? To make my friends become “aware”? They are aware, and like I stated earlier, they love and care about the men in their lives. I would wind up looking self-righteous, because, frankly, I would feel that way if I were on the other side of all this. Hurting feelings or leaving even a twinge of self-doubt and embarrassment is not my intentional M.O.  Besides, I don’t know every detail of their lives, so who am I to judge.

I will follow what I feel to be right for me, with an eye towards compassion to my neighbor. Perhaps it is time to explore outlets and organizations that are designed to meet the needs of men who need support while they are supporting a beloved woman who is battling cancer. Share that information on Facebook. Add to the kitty of knowledge as opposed to claiming that there is something missing from it.

Here is a really good article about what not to say to a cancer sufferer, their caregivers or loved ones.

For two years in a row I organized an annual Party In Pink Zumbathon at the gym where I am a Zumba and group ex. instructor. I missed doing one last year. Perhaps it is time to start organizing one for this year. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so I best get crack’in!


Image credit.

Perhaps the next time I come across the husband of a sort of know them couple, who’s wife has just been diagnosed with breast cancer, I will get in the game and let sincerity be my guide.

Thoughts? Have you or someone you know been a caregiver for a loved one battling cancer? Are you a cancer survivor? Advice for the rest of us?

Thanks for hanging out and reading.


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