Tuesday, May 5, 2015

Natal Indulgence

Today is my 48th birthday, and I declare that I am entitled to rant a bit (not that I've ever refrained from ranting before) about what I've gone through during the past year and what it has taught me. 

As you might expect, my first birthday post-breast cancer diagnosis is a bit different from all the others. I'm not really thinking about my mortality; what I am thinking about is how my view of the world has changed over the past 12 months. So, buckle up and read on: 

The Worst Brings Out the Best: When you're confronted with a cancer diagnosis, you find out just how much you're willing to put up with. Trivial things that might have once caused your skin to crawl, and the hairs on the back of your neck to stand on end no longer elicit that type of reaction. Moreover, and this is something most of us already know, you find out who your true friends are. The ones who stick with you through cancer, are the ones who will be there with you through anything. The ones who scurry off like frightened rabbits should be consigned to the holes they crawl into and remain there for eternity.

You Must Find a New "Normal": First of all, there's no such thing as "normal". What you have to make peace with is the fact that your life as you know it has changed forever. It may sound strange, but since I had that experience once before, I was better prepared for it to happen again. Honestly, the second time around was easier to deal with. Don't get me wrong, hearing I had cancer was still greatly distressing, but I was lucky to have a better support system this time, than I did the first time my life was blown apart. 

It is Much Uglier Than You Can Imagine: Every woman's experience with breast cancer is different. Unfortunately, most of what we know about the experience comes from sources that gloss over a great deal of what it's really like. Celebrity tell-alls about cancer never used to bother me. Now, I roll my eyes at them. You'll never really understand until you go through it. And the irony is, we don't want to hear about it from the woman next-door; we have collectively become such colossal star-fuckers, that the little people don't seem to matter. 

We Must Destroy the Double Standard: One of the most shocking revelations I've had is discovering the double standard that exists when it comes to breasts. Women who elect to undergo plastic surgery to enhance their bust lines are applauded by everyone for doing something that will make them feel better about themselves. Women who undergo double mastectomies in an effort to give themselves peace of mind about recurrence are vilified, and thought of as unfeminine heathens who willingly mutilate their bodies. This has to change. Regardless of gender, we are all so much more than the sum of our body parts. 

Shut Up About Mammograms: Today, yet another article about mammograms found its way into my social media world. For decades now, we've had the prevention message jammed down our throats and most of us realize it is outmoded. We don't want to be clubbed over the head and dragged off to the breast press because someone wearing a pink ribbon is haranguing us. We understand there is conflicting information about when to get screened, how often, and all the false positives/negatives that occur. Instead of flogging us with countless contradictory studies and opinions, we need to find more effective ways to treat cancer, instead of thinking we can prevent it. At this stage of the game, there is no such thing. 

Stop Telling Us To Live With It: There are countless articles written about breast cancer being "over-diagnosed". Many medical professionals opine that there are certain types of breast cancer we can live with. I don't agree with that horse shit. My cancer spread to my lymph nodes and I never had any symptoms. We shouldn't have to live with cancer if it can be dealt with. People living with metastatic disease don't have a choice. 

We Must Take Responsibility For Ourselves: The easiest thing to do when it comes to dealing with health issues is to stick your head in the sand and hope for the best. I'm guilty of doing that, and so are you. If we take the time to learn about our family history and what we need to be conscious of, we're halfway home. Making informed decisions about how to stay as healthy as possible requires a bit of soul-searching, not a trip to the supermarket for a wheelbarrow of kale. Yes, eating healthfully is part of it, but knowing where you come from and what you might be at risk for is a significant part of the process. When we determine our risk factors, we can make more informed choices. Only we can do that for ourselves. I can't make you do it; I can only share my experiences, which will hopefully get you thinking about your own. 


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