OK, enough with the pause (haha), I have something on my mind and some time to say it.
This morning I was reading a blog by a friend who just had her last (16th) chemotherapy treatment for cancer. She lives in Japan. In a Facebook group for women in midlife that I am part of, three of us have had cancer in a year. We were supported by women in this group who have not had cancer but also by several for whom the experience is clear and ever-present.
Last month was Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month (go teal!!) but on October 1, when the man whose wife has had three rounds of breast cancer put my chicken in a pink plastic grocery bag, I knew what month this is. Bring out the football players in their pink shoes and put on your pink ribbon pins, folks, cause it’s Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
Reading my friend’s post, where she wrote about ways she has changed this year– connections made, love experienced, a new openness and awareness of strength– and ways she knows she will continue to change and realize changes in the coming year, I thought that in a way “women” is different than it was because of breast cancer.
Last week, when Julia Louis-Dreyfus announced that she has breast cancer, she said: “1 in 8 women gets breast cancer, and today I’m the one.”
How has the prevalence of reproductive cancers impacted female identity?
I hardly know how to answer, and of course to answer, is to answer how have reproductive cancers impacted the world.
Because this is America, we can start by the industry it has generated. I’m not talking about the treatment industry, which is in itself gigantic, and includes several options for implants and reconstruction. But if you don’t want breast reconstruction, there is a piece of the industry for padded bras/prosthetics. And the industry we’re talking about here is the beauty industry. Because: women. The industry tells you two things: you can (still) be beautiful and/or you can be/are brave. Beautiful and brave. Brave in your baldness– but with many beauty options. For me it is encapsulated in the American Cancer Society’s “Look Good Feel Good” event I attended in April 2016. What was interesting to me was that only one of us out of the five was actually there for the make-up. I gave mine to Steve’s aunt afterward. We were subjected to videos by a national make-up association and a fashion association with advice on how to buy clothes now and encouraging us that proper make-up could help us continue to look beautiful even as chemo took our hair. (It also severely compromises your skin, so using those cosmetics was out of the question for me.) The event was a way for several of us in treatment to meet each other, which allowed us then to check in with each other when we had treatment on the same days. It’s where I met my chemo buddy.
So, yes, we are pelted by the fashion and cosmetics industry. I did succumb somewhat. I bought some dresses and earrings in addition to lots of needed pajamas. (Once you’re finished treatment, you’re invited to celebrate by buying a new wardrobe!) I added the term “self-care” to my vocabulary. I had amazing and therapeutic “oncology facials” once a month during treatment– to call them facials is to completely misunderstand the therapy, which moved lymph and treated burning, damaged skin, and even once included a gentle abdomen mask(!!) And the caring attention from Amanda during and after the treatment was another relationship aspect– and deepened my understanding of and appreciation for therapeutic touch tremendously.
And that, I think, is the real area to focus on. If 1 in 8 women experience a year or more of discovering how strong their bodies really are (to fight it) and are opened suddenly to receive care and love from others, and to express love for others, all of which they continue to carry with them throughout the world, well– what does that do?
As more and more women learn that death is a part of life and that dying is a natural process, and learn to be with others as they die, to face death as well as life– what does that do?
When I was in treatment, my baldness identified me. I was approached by so many cancer survivors. We are in a world filled with cancer survivors. What does that do?
The “pink” has brought cancer survivors out into the open. And also the vast improvement to treatment– the anti-nausea meds particularly– that allow many women with cancer to be present in the world even during treatment. There is less stigma. And so we recognize each other and start to realize how many of us are in the world.
(*Photos of one of the sunflowers I grew this year. They are scary plants– like planting palm trees in your garden! But the results were surprising and great. I’ll have sprouts from my own seeds this February when nothing else to eat is green.)