A few years ago, when I was still in the midst of active treatment, my older son started playing tackle football. During the month of October, they swapped out their maroon socks for pink, the boys wore pink wristbands, shoelaces and eye black, and all the cheerleaders, including my daughter, started wearing pink bows. When he asked me why everyone was doing this, I told him it was for breast cancer awareness. With a look that only a sarcastically-advanced 8-year-old can pull off, he smirked at me and said, “Mom, don’t you think I’m already aware?”
Fair point. He was certainly more aware than any third grader should be.
This morning, both of my boys suited up for football with their pink socks, wristbands, eye black and shoelaces, and my daughter dressed for cheer with a big pink bow in her hair and a pink ribbon pin on her bag. My kids are aware of breast cancer in ways that their friends are not, and hopefully never will be.
They’re just not aware that their mom has breast cancer again.
They aren’t aware that I’ve been forced into menopause and I’m taking a fistful of drugs and supplements every day to keep myself asymptomatic for as long as possible.
They aren’t aware that chemo is inevitable and that I’m dreading the day I have to tell them that I’m going to lose my hair again.
They aren’t aware that if the statistics are to be believed, I will not see them graduate from high school.
I am aware. Every second of every day, I am aware that I have breast cancer.
Every time I think about snagging a French fry off of my kid’s plate and wonder if that fry will shorten my lifespan.
Every time I yell at my kids and wonder if their only memories of me will be of a yelling, nagging, shrieking harpy whose only concerns in life are underwear on the floor and homework getting done before midnight.
Every time I picture my babies having babies and wonder if maybe teenage pregnancy wouldn’t be so bad if it meant that I would be alive to meet my grandchildren. (I’m kidding, of course. Teenage pregnancy is not a goal. But how I would love to meet my grandchildren.)
I don’t know if we’re doing the right thing by not telling them yet. There is so much awfulness coming their way because their mom has cancer that I want to put it off as long as possible. I want to protect them. When they think about breast cancer, I want them to think of the pink and shiny breast cancer that they think their mom survived. Not this dark and scary breast cancer that their mom is fighting.
I do worry that someday, once I’m gone, they’re going to be pissed because we weren’t honest with them from the get go. That they won’t understand that in our desire to protect them from the worst, we kept the biggest secret from them that we possibly could.
I know I can’t keep them protected forever. But I want to keep them in this bubble of ignorance as long as possible. I want them to wear the pink socks and wristbands and cheer bow and feel proud that their mom is a survivor. And I will keep the dark and scary from them for as long as I can.
And since it is Breast Cancer Awareness month, here is my PSA – go get your mammogram. If it’s been more than a year, call today and make an appointment. If you’re 40 or over, call today and make your appointment. If you’re under 40 but have any reason to think that you might be at risk, call today and make your appointment.
1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with invasive breast cancer in their lifetimes. Scary thought, isn’t it? There are 7 women out there who can be thankful to me, because I am the 1 in 8, but unless you’re one of those 7, please take care of yourself and be proactive about your breast health.