The “C” Word

I went to a NY Giants’ game last week and cried … not because the game was tortuously slow (which it was.)  I cried because, during the national anthem, several dozen women with breast cancer, proudly carried a huge pink ribbon onto the field as pink accented muscle-bound manly-men stood on the sidelines waiting to take their positions.  It was a sea of feminine pink amidst one of our most masculine events and in its dichotomy, it was a glorious sight.  There was a time, and it was not so long ago, that cancer was a taboo topic and using the word breast in mixed company was akin to dropping the “f” bomb.  God forbid you put them together in a sentence.  I have older female relatives who have died, “we think because of cancer … some kind of female cancer, maybe.”  Some kind of cancer is not at all helpful to my sisters, my cousins and me. Nor was it helpful to my beautiful mother who died of ovarian cancer at the too-young age of 62, three years ago next week.  As she would often say, “I am so healthy except for this stupid cancer.”  No risk factors that she knew of, no bad habits, no warning, just BOOM … stage 4 ovarian cancer.My husband’s mother died of lung cancer in 1989.  She was a smoker when people didn’t know how bad tobacco was.  (Don’t judge the Marlboro generation too harshly.  I know …  inhaling black smoke into your lungs and expecting no consequences, it seems pretty naive.  But, I pray that our own children won’t be saying the same about us and our cell phone and pesticide use.)

My children lost both of the grandmothers to cancer – the only “C” word worse than the other one, but the one that we have to say aloud and often.  My mother-in-law’s death at 48 was tragic but I don’t have to worry about my children — no one smokes around them and I pray they will never adopt what is quickly becoming an extinct habit.  My 7 year old literally asked me what a cigarette butt was when she picked it out of her brother’s mouth on the beach this summer and, to get my attention, dropped it into my wine glass.  Information about smoking risks and knowing better will save hundreds of thousands of lives.

That’s lung cancer, but what about breast and ovarian cancer?  I worry every day about my family … my sisters, my aunt, my daughters, my cousins and my nieces.  Is it going to creep up without warning and sweep our legs out from under us as it has done to so many women?  The horrific fact is that it might, but October, a month I have come to dread because it is the month I lost my mom, is actually giving me hope this year.  The pink and teal (the ovarian cancer color that is slowly but surely coloring our consciousness) ribbons are everywhere you look.   Thank you God, they are everywhere you look.  They mean that we are not ashamed of a diagnosis, that we are not going to run from the possibility of a diagnosis.  They mean that we are going to fight … we are going to fight cancer with information and knowledge and research and, I have to believe, we are going to win.

With that in mind, I dedicate the next two weeks of YesFive to the two wonderful women who are watching my children from heaven … the one I was not fortunate enough to meet but who raised the man that I love and the other who I miss more than words can say.  (If I could give cancer the finger, I would.)

Check out YesFive – cancer over the next two weeks.  You may learn something that can help you or a friend.  Again, information and knowledge are your biggest allies.  I welcome your comments about fear and hope and loss and anger if you are feeling generous enough to share.  It is our shared experience that makes us strong and at the very least, lets us know we are not alone.  Being alone sucks.  (Well, if you have a good book and a good bottle of Chardonnay and a good babysitter, it’s not that bad …)

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