So, it's still October. That means that it's still the time of year when people should be preparing their inappropriate Halloween costumes and finding yet another way to make trick or treating less fun for kids, but in addition they are buying pink and talking about how important it is to save the boobies.
Those of us who have at least temporarily survived breast cancer who have a voice in the universe, no matter how small, use that opportunity for different purposes. I'm going to use mine this October to continue hammering some things in about what it is really like to have breast cancer affect your life, your likelihood of getting old, and everything else. This time, my message will be brief.
Here are a few small, everyday examples of what it means to be a young breast cancer survivor, from a few different perspectives:
Your mom obsessively reads your blog posts, probably clicking several times a day if nothing new shows up, because she knows that is the only way that she is going to learn what you are really thinking. She has been on hormone replacements for menopause for over twelve years, and yet it is YOU who had breast cancer. She would like to trade places, but she can't. She often asks how you are doing and sounds a little bit panicked each time. She is completely convinced that because you had stage one cancer and did extensive chemotherapy, that your cancer will never return. She hates when you remind her how easily it could return, and always asks the same thing when you tell her about another woman with early stage disease that later metastasized: Was it in the lymph nodes? She no longer worries about getting breast cancer herself, no matter how many aspirations she endures for issues in her breasts.
Your older brother checks the blog often too, and always reads it. He never says anything about it, no matter what strange or uncomfortable thing he has just learned from his over-sharing little sister about her marriage, her teen years, or her body. He asks you if he should donate to certain races or causes when he is asked to do so, wondering if somehow that would offend you. He is back to calling you once in a blue moon when something needs to be decided, but you both remember when he used to call you every day because he liked to hear your voice and know you were still there.
Your husband carries many things within him that he will never be able to discuss with other men, even if they ask, which they don't. He doesn't really want to go to cancer-related events with you, because it is hard for him. This makes you angry with him. He says he would like to act as if the whole thing never happened and you say that's nice, I wish I had that option, knowing that of course he doesn't have that option either, but that he WISHES he did. He jokingly offers to shave the teenage babysitter's head for her if she decides to go that route, but he doesn't really think it's funny. He researches things online and doesn't tell you about it. He cries more than other husbands. You wish you had more patience for all of this, but in fact, you have less.
Your son asks about death a lot, because he is three, and some three year olds do that. He knows you can die from being sick. He wonders if this will happen to him. He says, but you only die if it's a really BAD sickness, right? And your six and a half year old daughter chimes in: No, you don't always die even from that. Mom had cancer, and she didn't die, and cancer is really bad. He nods his head in ageless understanding, and this idea comforts both of them.
Your friends often act as if nothing ever happened, just as your husband would like to do, and that is both good and bad. Sometimes they say the wrong thing, and you always let it go. Sometimes they say the right thing, and you appreciate it greatly: You know, you would have had cancer whether or not you decided to write about it. So, I can honestly say that I like your blog.
You write a blog, because really, what else can you do? You did all the right things in the first place. You have survived for not quite two years past treatment. You hope there is much, much longer to go. You know that no one knows how long she has, but you also know that there are many, many things that have happened to your body that make your chances for a long life slimmer than other people your age. You still love October, even though it marks the anniversary of one of the worst things that has ever happened to you, and is being used to remind you incessantly of one of the other ones. You have cheated death four times.
You are tired of it.