Hello October! It’s the month of pumpkin everything, fall leaves, black cats, spooky costumes – and the month of pink ribbons. Pink ribbons on everything from eggs to bagels, football cleats to charcoal bags, and everything in between.
Are you aware of breast cancer? I thought you were probably were. Did you know the biggest indicators are family history and environmental factors? Did you know the best way to catch it early is by regular self-checks and mammograms? Good. I’m glad you knew all of those things already.
Genuinely, I am happy that people are generally aware of all of the ways to have the best chance of surviving this awful illness.
But here’s the thing:
Cancer doesn’t care if you know all of that, and do all of the right things.
You can have no family history and still get breast cancer.
You can not be a carrier of any of the known breast cancer mutation genes and still get breast cancer.
You can have at least one child, relatively early in life, and then breastfed them past 6 months – things known to lower your risk, and still get breast cancer.
You can never consume hormonal birth control or hormone replacement therapy and get breast cancer.
You can live a healthy, active lifestyle and live most of your life in the “normal” BMI range and get breast cancer.
You can be a “late bloomer” in womanhood and then go through menopause earlier than your peers and still get breast cancer.
And here’s the real kicker – you can have all of those things in your favor, get regular mammograms, and find a lump early through regular self-checks and still, you can not just get breast cancer, but be diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer that has spread its toxic web all through your body.
I’m not saying this just to scare you into getting a mammogram, dear reader, or in hopes you’ll go feel yourself from armpit to breastbone, from bra line to shoulder (though I do encourage you to do it regularly. It’s awkward at first, but you’ll get the hang of it). Actually, if you don’t have breast cancer, if you aren’t the sister, daughter, or friend of someone reeling from a breast cancer diagnosis, you aren’t who I’m speaking the loudest to right now.
First and foremost, I’m speaking to you who have been diagnosed. And you, the daughter of the person fighting breast cancer. To you, the sister of the warrior. And you, the best friend in battle. I have been where you have been, and wondered and screamed out loud, how could breast cancer have reached my mom? My mom who checked none of the risk boxes and did all of the “right” things? How could this cancer have found its way into her body? And I have learned that the pain and incredulity is no different for those who have checked all of the risk boxes and done none of the “right” things. Their daughters, or sisters, or mothers wonder the same thing. How?
The answer is that breast cancer doesn’t care.
It just happens. Doesn’t that just SUCK? I remember researching all of the risk factors and trying to find the logic, but there is no logic. Sometimes it is more predictable than others, but more often than not, it just pops up on a random Sunday after you have just finished a facetime call wishing your father-in-law a happy birthday and put the kids to bed.
It poisons the person who brings goodness and life into your world, and there is no real reason. I’m married to a statistician whose job it is to look at probabilities and causations and correlations and don’t you know I demanded him answer every single version of the question:
“HOW DOES MY MOTHER HAVE TERMINAL BREAST CANCER?”
What I learned is that you will never find a reason that can justify breast cancer, but that the longer you spend looking for it, the less time you will have to love your person. You don’t want to waste a minute of time or a drop of energy on a search for reason that will ultimately be in vain, so don’t. Put that to rest at least for now while they endure treatment if you can’t put it to rest forever.
There will never be a satisfactory answer to “Why me?” Eventually, most people come to the realization that my mom did, “Why not me?” In the end, other than genetic testing to know if family members are at increased risk, it doesn’t much matter how many risk factor boxes the person did or didn’t check, what matters is how we support the person going forward. It matters that we recognize every patient as a fighter no matter if it was caught early and beaten into remission, or if for whatever reason, the cancer snuck through all treatment and stole the last breath from the person we love.
Let me tell you, there is really no reason to be found in who is killed by breast cancer.
So stop looking for reason in risk factors. Self-check regularly. Get mammograms. Pay attention to your body. Forgive your body if it betrays you, and then demand everyone around you throw risk factors to the wind and help you fight like hell.
Much love to anyone touched by breast cancer, particularly in this month where awareness ribbons will be in your face everywhere you look.
(Dedicated with unending love to CPR.)