Wednesday, October 21, 2015
Surviving and not surviving
This year, it is particularly so.
My goodness, I chastise myself, why can't I be like the women on tv: happy, sparkly, pink, shiny, proclaiming with fervor that early detection saved my life and cancer was a gift and it changed me for the better. Why can't I be a better survivor?
The picture of breast cancer as this happy thing to be celebrated with pink parties and show your bra day and don't wear a bra day and show off your cleavage and buy pink scissors and eggs with pink ribbons and yogurt with pink lids and hey, while you're at it, you can even watch porn for the cure!
It's all so upbeat and happy.
And it's driving me to the breaking point.
Because that is not my reality. That is not helping me. And in talking to other "survivors," it's not helping them either.
At least, I think to myself, I'm not alone. I'm not the only person who is struggling to deal with this.
Except, nagging at the back of my head, is the knowledge that there are also people in the same boat as me who are enjoying all of this, who hang bras on their front porch and attend the pink parties and wear with pride shirts that say "survivor." And around us people talk about them in such uplifting ways: She's a fighter! they say She's so strong, no way cancer would take her from us! they compliment her. Look at how positive she is about this, her great spirit got her through!
And somehow in the middle of all of this, I just want to crawl into my bed, curl up into a ball, and cry.
I want to cry because I do not feel strong.
I want to cry because I do not feel positive.
I want to cry because I do not feel cancer is behind me.
I want to cry because of my migraines - that started from treatment.
I want to cry because of the bone and joint pain - from treatment.
I want to cry because I have to take yet another nap because I never did get energy back.
I want to cry because I wonder if my kids will remember me when I was energetic and healthy.
I want to cry because of all the friends I've lost.
I want to cry because a friend just told me her cancer came back and is stage iv.
I want to cry because another friend was just newly diagnosed.
I want to cry because someone else messaged me to ask how she could best help her friend who is newly diagnosed.
I want to cry because I'm grateful that I'm still alive.
I want to cry because October, the Pinktober version, doesn't feel like it's for me.
I want to cry because I think I must be doing it wrong.
I want to cry because another woman has died from breast cancer.
I want to cry because I wonder if maybe someone didn't make a mistake by allowing me to get through treatment successfully when women who were smarter, wiser, and were making a greater difference in this world did not.
And there my friends, is the crux of the problem.
A month that is supposed to be so good, happy, and uplifting, and it just leaves me feeling terrible and not good enough. A month in which I am supposed to be held up as a good example - after all, I had breast cancer but I was "strong enough" to beat it, leaves me feeling weak and unworthy.
Do not be mistaken: women who have died from breast cancer were not not-fighters. They were not not-strong. They were not not-positive. They were not any less deserving than I to go through treatment and come out on the other side.
And yet, they didn't.
They were strong, intelligent women. Women who were loved and valued and making a difference in this world.
And all the pink parties in the world didn't save them. All the bras as decorations didn't save them. Buying pink things didn't save them. Football players wearing pink socks didn't save them.
And it breaks my heart.
Because I'm still here.
And they are not.
October is a hard month for me. I can hardly leave the house and not be inundated with pink stuff and breast cancer awareness. For that matter, I can hardly be in the house and not be inundated. It's on tv. It's on products we've bought (not for that reason, but it's there). It's in the ads we get in the mail and the newspaper. It is everywhere.
I haven't found my place among it all yet. I haven't figured out what my role in all of this is yet. Most days, I am overwhelmed with just getting through the day.
Please don't misunderstand what I'm saying here - I know that people mean well. They want to be supportive. I appreciate that. When a friend says her son wears pink socks to his football game in honor of his grandmother, it touches me. When another friend shares the story about how a whole neighborhood came together to paint pink pumpkins to honor a neighbor about to start treatment, I think that's awesome. When someone else dyes a stripe of her hair pink to honor her mother, I wonder if I should get a pink stripe too!
That is touching and means something to that person and those they are supporting or who's memory they are honoring. But pink eggs? And yogurt? And scissors? And pink socks on pro football players? And all the races for the cure in which almost no money goes to a cure? Misleading facts on billboards and ads? Women showing off healthy breasts to honor the disease that took mine from me? Interviews with women who no longer have breast cancer that paints them as winning the battle because they are strong (implying that those who "lost" the battle must not be)? Companies that hike the price of something up 50% because it pink and brag about donating as little as 1% back to breast cancer organizations?
All of that? All of that weighs on me and makes me so angry. It piles on top of everything else I am feeling this month. All the sadness. All the pain. All the worrying that I'm doing it "wrong." The gratefulness to still be here. The wondering of why me - why did I get cancer? Why do I still get to be here? The thankfulness of a loving family. The support of friends. The knowledge that 110 women will die today from breast cancer.
This is October from where I am standing. This is what I see when I step up on my soapbox to talk about breast cancer and awareness and education. This view that encompasses so many feelings and emotions and fears and worries and happiness and love. It's all there. But the darker side feels amplified this month. Like, to counteract the image of the smiling, happy, bald woman (which I am not) I must balance it with the realities that I face.
I survived breast cancer.
But I do not feel like a survivor.
And when this month is focused on survivors, it makes me feel like a fraud.