My Aunt Lee made the very best chocolate mousse. It was incredibly rich and super smooth. Like chocolate mousse meets chocolate pudding. Rumor has it that she used raw egg yolks, but that's just a rumor. One night around the dinner table, my parents told my sister and me that Aunt Lee was sick and there was little the doctors could do. The details were sketchy and it was clear that more info was not going to be forthcoming. She was gone just weeks later. As far as I know, no one ever got her chocolate mousse recipe.
When I was a kid, cancer was the Voldemort of diseases -- the disease that must not be named. A cancer diagnosis was something to be whispered. A secret to be hidden as long as possible. This secrecy added to the fear and, I assume, to the isolation of treatment.
But times are a-changin.
Ceil was the neighbor and best friend of my high school boyfriend's sister. She was a few years older than I, beautiful, spunky and super-cool in the way that only the super-cool-best-friend-of-your-boyfriend's-older-sister could be. Ceil and I had lost touch for almost two decades, but reconnected on Facebook. And, from all appearances, she's still super cool. Ceil announced her breast cancer diagnosis on Facebook with the words "my turn" accompanied by a pink ribbon.
I remember the night I met Denise. We were both guests at a press dinner and sat next to one another at the end of a long table. We ate truffle fries and talked a mile-a-minute. Denise is one of those incredible people who I always describe as nicer than she is beautiful -- and if you know Denise, you know that's a very high bar. Denise shared her diagnosis #FutureCancerSurvivor.
During treatment, their social media feeds were filled with strength, love and friendship. Both shared images of friends accompanying them to chemo, their gratitude for their medical teams and, perhaps as important, posts that made it clear that their lives had not stopped. That yes, #cancersucks, but even in the throes of treatment, the lives that they cherish continue. Kids went to camp, dogs played, business grew, plans were made and treatments were endured.
While I am certain that there were dark days and long nights, and some might think that perhaps they painted too bright a picture of a horrible disease, I salute them and the thousands of others who have changed the conversation. Those who have taught us that a breast cancer battle need not be fought in private, but can be proudly and publicly waged by warriors who look just like us.
Thank you Ceil and thank you Denise for making a cancer diagnosis just a little bit less scary for the rest of us.