What does pink mean to you? Or maybe a better question what does the month make you think about? I’ve had the pleasure of having many reach out to me as October is upon us. Just checking in on me. I wonder if I am what they think of when October rolls around? Whatever the reason – the love is welcomed and humbling.
I have a unique perspective living with Stage IV breast cancer for almost nine years. November 1st will mark a day that I never thought possible – nine years since I was told that I have terminal cancer. My life expectancy at that point was 1-3 years. I was 32-years-old with three small kids. I am grateful. I am grateful that research has provided options. As a matter of fact, my current treatment didn’t exist nine years ago.
Over the past nine years I have had the privilege of meeting some of the most brave, amazing, compassionate and determined women living with metastatic breast cancer. That’s stage IV terminal cancer. They are all living in varying degrees of grief and illness every day. They are all in constant treatment while working jobs, raising families and living with knowing that this monkey will always be on their back. They will bear the burden of marching forward while mourning the pre-cancer life they led. These women have provided me with so much inspiration I can’t even begin to articulate the amazing grace I have witnessed. Right now I am thinking of so many.
My beautiful sister in Syracuse, the one and only Mrs. L. She changed my life with her grit and determination as she endured mind numbing treatments all to share more time with her beautiful son and incredible husband. She’s no longer on this earth. Or the tough-as-nails Ms. B, who was a single professional woman going through treatments while continuing to shatter ceilings in her professional life. Ms. B lived big and joyfully – December will mark 4 years in heaven, I can still hear her laugh. Or the sweet loving Ms. S who was divorced raising two beautiful kids with the help of her parents. Each day she woke up and endured this disease to see the next (maybe her last) afternoon at the beach with her babies. She was stunningly beautiful with a HUGE heart. She’s been an angel since 2016. Or the radiant, gentle Mrs. W who calmly, thoughtfully shared pieces of her treatment to educate – all while loving every minute with her two daughters and loving husband. This summer marked three years without her on this earth. Her family continues to live a life of service contributing time and money to BC organizations. And more recently the soft-spoken, big-hearted, single mom Ms. R who left this earth yesterday. She left behind the most precocious, hilarious, kind, loving five-year-old that I’ve ever met. There are so many more. Sadly, I could go on for days.
Then there are the women who have somehow found unicorn status. Yes, you read that right – unicorn status. These are the women who ask their oncologist about this or that. And the answer is, “We don’t know? No one has ever lived as long as you on that drug? We don’t know because no one has had this exceptional response on that drug?” Oh yes, my pachamama soul sister out on the West Coast – the compassionate Mrs. B – she gets it, the gratitude for life while balancing the struggle of side effects and treatment while raising a family. Or the determined Mrs. M who travels the world advocating for breast cancer patients while balancing treatment and side effects.
And then – there are those that are recently diagnosed. The women who welcome your cancer expertise as a long-time patient. The women who are dragging themselves through this new world of cancer treatment, this new world of uncertainty. It doesn’t matter if it’s stage O or stage IV it is terrifying and has a grip on every aspect of their lives. The lovely Ms. K comes to mind. Living her best life traveling, writing, while grappling with a second cancer diagnosis. Or the incomparable Mrs. S finding her footing while raising kids and balancing treatment.
And of course, there are those women that have their diagnosis and physical treatment in the rear view but are still grappling with the body the disease has left behind and the fears that grip them. The amazing Mrs. E who reached out to check in on me today comes to mind. Or the fiercely resilient Mrs. P who leapt and moved her family across the world for a change in perspective. Or the beautiful Ms. K who is always near and dear to me as she finds her footing in her post- cancer life (can it ever be post?!?). There is the soft, sweet, determined oily goddess Mrs. V who is raising four kids while finding a stunningly beautiful balance between eastern and western medicine. And then there is the incomparable Ms. W who decided to launch a non-profit organization after her diagnosis. An organization to help all these bc patients to find themselves after cancer, in the midst of cancer or while living with cancer.
These are some of the women I love, I have loved and lost throughout my nine years. These are the women that I could share my fears with, these are the women who understand scanxiety, treatment fatigue, headaches, stomach aches, loss of mobility, loss of hair, brain fog, lymphedema, new treatments, running out of treatments, fear and anxiety for themselves, fear and anxiety for their loved ones. These are the women I could get on the phone with and go straight to the heavy shit. How are you doing? How are you REALLY doing? Cut the shit – it’s me. These are the women that have and have had an innate ability to make me feel accepted. These are the women who offered genuine compassion in a judgement-free zone. My cancer wasn’t the elephant in the room, it wasn’t the thing we didn’t talk about. Hell, it was front and center and we connected and loved each other in spite of it. And when cancer takes me down a rabbit hole – they always come looking to fish my ass out. They knew and know when to push. They knew and know my silence is fear and isolation. I know and knew each time I connected that one of us was going to have to say goodbye prematurely. We both knew it. But, that human need for connection is so strong, it knows no limits.
So this October – To all the ones I’ve loved and lost I will make sure to love those you left behind extra hard this month. I will make sure to let them know “I SEE YOU. YOU MATTER” and your loved one mattered too. I will let them know I am sending peace and maybe a funny story about “their person”. And for all the ones that are still here – trudging through their days – bathing in the light that is another day while balancing the darkness of managing their disease, I SEE YOU. I ADORE YOU and I am so GRATEFUL and PROUD to call you my friend and my family. THANK YOU. I will take October to reach out to as many of you as I can to show you my LOVE and APPRECIATION.