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I'm a Breast Cancer Survivor, but I Realize We're All Surviving Something

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I get it. I’m a Survivor, one with a capital “S.” I don’t know when the breast cancer pink machine started using that term, but I’m not all that comfortable with the label. That day back in February when I was diagnosed, I got angry. Very, very angry. I immediately said, “Nobody better freakin’ come at me with any pink ribbon, glittery crap or try to do some charity nonsense in my name. I’m. Not. Having. It!”

It’s been over nine months since I much more than uttered those words. I now have pink stuff, some of which I’ve even obtained on my own accord. I made it through my first Race for the Cure as a survivor. I wore the pink shirt, posed for the group photo, let go of the pink balloon (even though there was no “less-than-a-year” release category), and even managed to feel some sense of belonging and pride during the whole thing. It’s the other women, those who understand what this is because they’ve been there, who have made me more tolerant of my new group membership.

This week I had my six-month follow-up with my breast surgeon and my six-week follow-up with my plastic surgeon. I won’t have an appointment with my breast surgeon for another year or with my plastic surgeon for another four months. I don’t see my oncologist again until December. The spacing is huge, especially considering the dead sprint we were in back in the spring. It means we told breast cancer to get the h*ll out, slammed the door in her face and watched her run, screaming into the night. That sounds pretty violent. I promise I’m not a violent person, except when cancer comes around.

My physical struggle with this beast is coming to an end. The medicine, Tamoxifen, that I’m taking for the next 10 years is not my favorite thing in the world. Ice cream involving chocolate and peanut butter is my favorite, but I appreciate Tamoxifen’s proven effectiveness in keeping this cancer away. It’s causing physical struggles but nothing that I can’t handle. As for the emotional struggle of breast cancer, well, that’s another story. I honestly don’t know where I am with that. It’ll take time.

This week I did something that was somewhat healing. I spoke publicly about my breast cancer experience for the first time. Our beautiful goddaughter invited me to speak at her all-girls school. She organized a pink-out day, and each girl paid two dollars to break uniform and wear pink. They raised several hundred dollars to donate. It was the first time that I put into words what I’d been thinking since that day back in February when our world stopped spinning.

We are all surviving something.

My something just happens to have millions of dollars and serious PR behind it. It’s now pink and popular and heroic; other struggles don’t get that kind of support.

I looked around that cafeteria on Wednesday. There were hundreds of girls, a few that I knew, and I thought about the magnitude of their present or future “somethings.” Violence, abuse, divorce, poverty, illness, eating disorders, secrets, shame, guilt, learning struggles, bullies, addiction and so on. They are surviving big things, too. The fact is, I was a survivor long before breast cancer ever came knocking. And if I’m being honest, breast cancer probably isn’t even the hardest thing I’ve survived thus far. Anxiety, depression, poverty, parental alcoholism, miscarriage, death of a parent, those things were hard and couldn’t be cut out or treated with medication. Obviously, I’m not arguing that breast cancer isn’t insanely difficult. It is. It’s much more difficult for those who have undergone chemo, radiation, complications and recurrences. It probably is their ultimate tale of survival.

I think of many of my friends, acquaintances and even strangers who are surviving things I can’t even begin to imagine including sick kids, crushing relationships, chronic health problems, family violence, financial ruin, sexual assault, body image demons and much more. You are survivors! I see your bravery, your perseverance, your fortitude. I admire your strength and courage. I wish there were ribbons, races, and colors in your honor because you are surviving and I see you! Your fight against your something has helped carry me through mine. I would love to think that this year will go down in our books as the hardest of our lives but I know that it likely won’t. We’re young and we have a lot more life to live. I do know that what I am learning during this struggle is making me stronger, able to walk with greater confidence through difficulty and more eager to hold the hands of others during their dark times. This is the purpose of my survival. If we don’t use our difficult experiences to bring light into the darkness of the struggling, then what’s the point of surviving in the first place?

Photo credit: kieferpix/Getty Images

Originally published: August 20, 2018
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