I’m interrupting my series on recurrence, because today was the Susan G. Komen Race for the Cure in Toledo, Ohio, the metro area where I reside. Over 17,000 particpants were there.
I began to cry even before I got to the race. Amy, my nephew’s fiancee asked me why I become so emotional…she was curious what part of the event makes me cry. I explained to Amy that the biggest reason I cry is that I am alive, and two years ago I didn’t think I would be here today. But mostly I cry for ALL OF YOU, my blog readers!! I know your stories – the breasts you have lost, the children that you pray you will see grow up, the relationships that have supported you through it all, the relationships you have lost, and what you had to suffer through surgeries, chemotherapy and radiation. And the biggest of all, the fear you now have to live with on a daily basis that IT will come back.
Your stories are embedded on my heart. All of you walked with me today. Standing with those over 500 survivors as we posed for the televised group picture from those newly diagnosed up to a 49 year survivor, tears once again poured down my face and the faces of many other women near me. The woman on my right was a Stage IV breast cancer patient, first diagnosed in 2002 at age 37 and now on yet another chemo drug. Her vibrancy and hope gave me more courage. The woman in front of me was a 23 year survivor. I asked her if she ever forgets. She said, “No, I see it in the mirror every day.” The woman on my left was a Stage 3 Triple Negative Survivor who was also a nurse. She said if it were not for Komen, she would not be alive today because of all the research dollars for Triple Negative Cancer funded by Komen.
Over one BILLION dollars for research has been raised by Komen since its inception in 1982. In 2012 alone, the University of Michigan Breast Care Center where I receive treatment received over $4 million dollars for research money from Komen. My Oncologist has been a Scientific Advisor and a Komen Scholar for National Komen. Since 2010, he has received $250,000 each year from Komen for research. He explained to me where he directs those research dollars at University of Michigan. He sings Komen’s praises and tells me about the tenacity of Nancy Brinker, the founder, as he works with her. I trust him. There may be plenty of things to find fault with about Komen. We’ve all read about plenty of them. But Komen helped save my life, and I am grateful.
Many of you may feel exploited by all of the pinkwashing that goes on. Certainly, I do sometimes. First I felt angry and explored the hate-Komen philosophy, but after doing plenty of research and asking my Oncologist a lot of questions, I then realized I would rather be a little exploited, than to go back to the 1960s when my beautiful Aunt Rosemary, wife of my father’s brother, had breast cancer when she was a young mom of four in her 30s.
No one talked about it–family members only whispered about breast cancer in hushed tones like she was a leper. She had no support system and was drastically disfigured by the radical surgery methods then. There were no drugs. She had Cobalt treatments – the precursor to radiation as we know it. She survived against all odds and against what she was told by her doctors, “Get your affairs in order and find a home for your children.” She and my uncle divorced after breast cancer and she raised those four children alone. No one talked about the why of the divorce. Now I understand.
Always, I admired her as Aunt Rosemary could be so strong, yet so kind and compassionate to all she met. Aunt Rosemary had reconstructive surgery 40 years later when she had insurance that would pay for it because, she told me, “…the power of Komen.” After surgery, she said she finally felt whole after all those years. Then she found love again at age 70. She died NOT from breast cancer when she was in her mid-70s about 10 years before my diagnosis. I cried for Aunt Rosemary today, too, as her spirit walked with us.
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