My friend, Patricia Armstrong, is, so far, a breast cancer survivor. Each year in October, she's asked by her local paper, the Eugene (OR) Register-Guard, to write an opinion piece on cancer awareness month. Below is this year's offering from her enormous heart and talented pen. Because I know she's a faithful reader of this blog, I want to add a few preliminary words of my own.
Pat and Rich, her husband, are wonderful people! Married over fifty years (she's counting more carefully than I am), they are inspiring models of mutual, self-giving love, and by their example have taught this celibate a thing or two about the kind of love that enables one to "lays down his/her life for a friend." Pat's battle with cancer has been epic. Guerilla warfare, all-out nuclear strikes, terrorist attacks - all the metaphors apply in one way or another. In the middle of the turmoil, Pat has also acted as journalist; chronicling the attacks and counter-attacks in poetry and prose that has expressed the thoughts, desires, hopes, and despair of many, many women and men who have experienced the same battles. One of my favorites is a collection of poetry titled, "Daring to Dance, Refusing to Die," which sums up Pat's attitude wonderfully! From her public readings of her widely published poetry, short fiction and essays, Pat has raised thousands of dollars for breast cancer research. If you have a spare prayer, you might ask the Lord to give some publisher enough guts to publish her wonderful novel, "The Fattest Woman in Ireland." Every publisher who reads it loves it, but she's not a well-known novelist - at least not yet. I'd prefer that the literary awards she'd receive for it not be given posthumously.
She has served as the confidante of priests and lay ministers, as muse to a gifted local writer (who I'll call, "what's-his-name," since that's how he has referred to me). With her husband, Rich, she has helped pastors at St. Thomas More Newman Center in Eugene prepare couples for the sacrament of marriage - and has continued to support and encourage them after their marriage. Three young women who serve meals at the Eugene Hotel where she and Rich live have been talked into going to college by Pat. Her powers of persuasion are prodigious. (How's that for alliteration??) She has consented to be an editor of the bi-monthly e-Scribe I try to cobble together, and has shown the utmost patience with my prediliction to constantly use split infinitives.*
But enough from me - now you can read for yourself. But don't just read this note about breast cancer; DO SOMETHING about breast cancer! I know Pat and Rich would encourage you to pray for those who have the disease, their loved ones, cancer caregivers, and researchers seeking a cure. She just couldn't ask for that in a secular newspaper.
OCTOBER: BREAST CANCER "BEWARENESS"
Your attention, please! We're back in the PINK again. It's October, Breast Cancer Awareness Month, a calendar commemoration, as with so many other worthy reminders, that must not be minimized, yet I muse continuously: where does the AWARENESS go for the other eleven months?
Q. Do we engage in some form of denial or benevolent amnesia?
A. No way! Not those of us with this damnable disease or our caregivers and loved ones.
Not we chickens (and some roosters, too) who follow our physicians' game plans with hopeful, if enervating endurance.
I've written in this same autumnal space before and, despite all predictions since my first dire diagnosis in 1992, I am still attached to the operative word "survival." I still dance the figurative hesitation waltz of treatments and some times horrific side effects, and I often feel almost apologetic for surviving this long. More than once in the past four years my local columnist friend has described me in print as "dying." Humor as my ultimate refuge, I chide him "Oh, isn't everyone?" True, there is a small inoperable alp on my already heavily radiated spine. (If one's cancer originates in a breast, the subsequent malignancies remain breast cancer in origin even if they travel to skeletal and/or visceral sites.)
And so this October I think the reminder should have an added focus, namely: Breast Cancer BEWARENESS Month! Consider the more than 40,000 women in this country we will lose again this year. Factor in the millions more who are in treatment now and perhaps a million who have not yet been diagnosed. Globally, the statistics haven't budged in the past two years. Someone, male or female, succumbs to breast cancer every 90 seconds.
This past year there were days when I almost felt part of something quite acceptably fashionable and grateful for the openness of women such as Elizabeth Edwards, Sheryl Crow, Melissa Etheridge and TV's Robin Roberts, following the revelations of previous headliners like Nancy Reagan and Betty Ford. Because of their various open testimonies, cancer organizations and treatment centers reported an upswing in requests for mammograms and other information. A salvo of PINK for such honest witnessing!
Sure, early detection is the ideal with frequent self-exams and mammograms, perhaps the latter scans from an earlier age than many doctors suggest. But later detection is NOT an automatic death sentence. New clinical trials are ongoing and there are continuous reviews and modifications of dosages. There is medical progress, AWARENESS. For example, an emphasis of the exacerbating role of alcohol consumption on already difficult side effects. And there is new, less uncomfortable mammography machinery (we gals have long thought this would have been invented decades earlier had men been in the majority for breast cancer!)
Websites are now a patient's adjunct tools of treatment. Without playing doctor, patients and those who care for and about them should check online information for all medicines prescribed, all protocols, preferably before doctors begin regimens; so intelligent questions can be asked and answered. We should be informed advocates, partners with our medical team. Physicians, no matter how specialized and board-certified, are not gods. More and more, I've learned that modern medicine is more art than science.
There is a plethora of websites. Every day I click on www.thebreastcancer.com/ (the PINK window in the middle). Corporate sponsors underwrite free mammograms using the number of visits to the site. Visit www.cancer.org/ and www.cancer.gov/ and cis.nci.nig.gov/. Patronize local merchants who give percentages of sales to Komen For the Cure or the American Cancer Society. Enhance AWARENESS by walking or running in the PINK periodic relays and races, including such local events as the Soroptimists' Walk for Life with pledges to help local women needing assistance with living expenses while they endure the effects of treatment. Wear the pink pins, buy the breast cancer stamps, volunteer for fund-raising. Reach out to diagnosed friends actively, offering rides to appointments, shoulders of compassion, humorous banter to distract from their onslaught.
I am in countdown, I know. But as a lifelong writer and fan of inspirational words, I offer this passage from Edith Wharton's "A Backward Glance:" "In spite of illness, in spite even of the archenemy sorrow, one can remain alive long past the usual date of disintegration if one is unafraid of change, insatiable in intellectual curiosity, interested in big things, and happy in small ways..." Amen.
*THAT one was intentional, Pat!
However, I await the other corrections you'll have for me.