Pink ribbons are a part of my adult life.
Breast cancer has been a part of my entire life.
It made its permanent mark twelve years before my birth on April 13, 1963. It was my grandmother’s 28th birthday. It was the day her mother, Bertha Mae Miller, died from breast cancer. She was 53 years old. She left behind a husband and twelve children; the youngest, my Ray (in the middle) turned eight on the day she buried.
According to BreastCancer.org, one in eight women will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. (Invasive (being defined by Google as “tending to spread prolifically and undesirably or harmfully). I suppose my family is a group of overachievers. My great grandmother had seven daughters. Two of them developed breast cancer, one in her twenties requiring a full mastectomy and one battling it in her sixties as I type. I can load you up with information but, this month, I’m sure you’ve seen quite a bit. What I want to share with you is the idea of being a fighter BEFORE the fight. This is NOT to imply that all who get breast cancer are sitting back drinking twelve packs of Pepsi every day without exercise and have a horrible nicotine addiction. What I am implying is that I KNOW the odds are stacked against me and I am going to do EVERYTHING I CAN to lead a healthier lifestyle so that if, in fact, breast cancer ever comes my way, I will be living in a way that supports life already.
Cancer is a scary word. Two of the most frightful moments in my life surrounded “that word.” The first being a routine breast exam in my very early thirties by my doctor who said she felt a lump. Did cancer “run in my family?” I had to answer yes. She scheduled me for a mammogram immediately. I remember crying so hard (I can still feel the emotion and remember what stop light I made it to before I called my husband screaming) I could barely see two feet in front of me. I finally made it home and called my mother. I think every person related to me called me in the next two days. (did I mention that paranoia also runs in my family?) We were afraid. We just were. My mammogram came out normal. Thank God. But even the thought of remotely having cancer was enough to make me need therapy. Seriously. The second scary moment was hearing the words that my father’s cancer test was positive. I still remember what parking spot I was sitting in at the gym and what song was playing. I couldn’t even drive home. I called my husband to come get me. I called him back and told him I needed a minute. I was just out of control. Cancer meant death. (And, for the record, my father beat cancer and a triple bypass all in the same summer. Hallelujah and Amen!)
We are so terrified but so “reactive.” We will wear pink all of October, buy products with pink ribbons on them (with good intentions because we really do want to help), do races and fundraisers and never think TWICE about what we are putting into our mouths and how we are taking care of our bodies. I’m puzzled at how fifty one years after my great grandmother’s death, breast cancer is STILL the second leading cause of death in women. STILL. All of the money. All of the research. STILL. Where’s the awareness? And where does it need to start?
Why do I do classes like Piloxing in Pink? The pictures are nice. The music is fantastic. The comrade is unmatched. Under Armour’s Power In Pink program is amazing. But I get to talk for two minutes about AWARENESS. Awareness of connecting fitness and food to prevention. Awareness of self breast exams and mammograms. Awareness of holding space for those who are being attacked by breast cancer and not just seeing them as distant faces but seeing them as the one out of our eight. Or our seven. Or like Tanya who found me on Instagram and told me she really wanted to meet me and get well enough to come to my classes. We were going to meet for coffee. She left for Heaven in December. I want to go beyond wearing pink ribbons. I want to open up the possibility of loosening the ribbons and speaking the real deal instead of serving up breast cancer in a neat little package. It is real. Our lives are real. We’ve got to get real.
PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE….right now, or tonight when you take a shower, do a self breast exam. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE, if it is time, schedule a mammogram. If you don’t know if it’s time, talk with your doctor. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE commit (to yourself) to better eating, better thinking and a more active lifestyle. PLEASE, PLEASE, PLEASE continue to pray for those who are in a battle for their lives.
This struggle is real. But our power is too.