Nearly a decade ago, when I was going through treatment for breast cancer, a dear friend and colleague of my husband's who had beat it once, but has since died from the disease, assured me, "A day will come when you will wake up in the morning and not think about cancer." At the time, I found that hard to believe.
Throughout radiation treatments (I was fortunate that my cancer was not as aggressive as hers, and I was spared chemo), follow up visits to the oncologist, and frequent tests and scans, cancer was constantly on my mind. And then there were the bills. I'm still paying off some of the medical costs that my insurance didn't cover. (We took out a home equity loan and paid the hospital in full so I wouldn't have to be reminded every month; the payments are now folded into our line of credit.) Still, for years I had cancer in my thoughts; each time I took my hormone therapy pill for five years after my surgery I had an added daily reminder of the trauma I'd been through (I'm not complaining, however; I was lucky enough to qualify for a medication that helped).
Even so, my husband's friend was right. At some point, I did stop thinking about breast cancer all the time, and a morning did arrive when I simply woke up, hopped out of bed, and went for a walk, without thinking "How did this happen to me?" or "What if I'm not alive to see my kids get married?" People talk about the side effects of cancer drugs, but there are other side effects as well, like constantly thinking and talking about the disease.
Perhaps that is why, when October rolls around each year, I cringe a little. I'd like to put cancer in the category of things that I never, ever think about (if I were to name those things, I'd have to think about them, so I won't). I'd like to write "breast cancer" on a piece of paper, light the paper on fire, and send it up into the ethers, as I actually have done on a few occasions at some funky Kundalini yoga workshops (I'm a Kundalini yoga teacher, so why not?).
But there's something to be said for remembering, and that of course, is that if we want to get rid of this beast once and for all, we need to be "aware" of it. If we want our daughters, sons, and grandchildren, and all the generations of the future, to not have to deal with it, we have to allow it to creep into our consciousness. We need to donate to organizations that are working for breast cancer prevention and cure (like the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation, my personal favorite), and we need to support research that can help us find the causes so that we can educate others. No, we don't need to focus on it every second of every day, but one month out of the year, in the month of October, is surely not enough.
I'm grateful that I can wake up in the morning and not have to think about breast cancer. My husband's friend, who gave me that reassuring piece of news, didn't know at the time that her cancer would recur and this time it would take her life.
I wish she were still here so that I could tell her how much her words meant to me when I was frightened and so very tired of thinking about cancer. And I wish I could tell her that we've found the causes and the cures, because even though she has passed on, her daughter and grandchildren would surely love to hear that news. It's my fervent hope and prayer that one day soon they will.
Maybe then we'll truly never have to think about it any more.