Pinktober

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OK, y’all, I have to get up on my soapbox for a minute. My apologies.

It’s October again. That means the pinkpalooza of Breast Cancer Awareness Month is in full swing. Everything from pink candy to cosmetics to exercise equipment will be hitting the shelves of stores across the country under the guise of doing something good to help combat breast cancer.

But here’s the thing: Most of that stuff does absolutely nothing but generate profits for the company that produces it. Slapping a pink ribbon on something doesn’t make it worthwhile–it makes it a gimmick.

Fortunately, there are some companies raising actual funds for breast cancer research and support. Bustle published a very good list recently. I also noticed this past weekend that Loft is asking customers to donate to the Breast Cancer Research Foundation, in addition to donating 60 percent of proceeds from a line of jewelry to the nonprofit.

Another thing I’ve noticed is the return of all those stupid viral things on social media, asking people to simply post a heart on their profile or the color of their bra or whatever for “breast cancer awareness.” This does NOTHING to raise awareness for breast cancer. This helps NO ONE. In fact, it trivializes something very serious into a juvenile game. I mean, do you see men posting emojis and their underwear color to raise awareness for prostate cancer? No. So please, I beg of you, stop sharing this pointless crap.

If you really want to share something on social media that can be helpful in raising awareness, this image is an excellent choice. It illustrates how many different ways symptoms of breast cancer can manifest. A lump isn’t the only sign, and it’s important to be aware of all the other possible symptoms.

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Finally, if you plan to mark this month by donating to a breast cancer charity, first of all, let me applaud you and say thank you. Secondly, let me point you in the direction of charities that do real good for the breast cancer community, and who have been proven to allocate the majority of their donations to research/support of breast cancer patients/survivors.

One of those groups is METAvivor, which raises awareness and funds for metastatic breast cancer patients and research. Here’s the thing: Early detection is great, but it’s no guarantee that a woman won’t die of this disease. Breast cancer is a wily beast, and when it metastasizes (i.e. spreads to other parts of the body and becomes Stage IV), that is when people die. And the sad fact is, there is an appalling lack of funding going into metastatic research/support. METAvivor works to remedy that problem, and they are definitely worth your support.

The Young Survival Coalition is another great group, particularly for young patients/survivors like me. They provide resources and tools for young women facing this disease. Living Beyond Breast Cancer is another great group that offers a wealth of support to patients and survivors.

And, of course, The American Cancer Society is always a good choice for supporting research to end this horrible disease for all.

There are others out there, but my best advice to you is to do your homework before you donate. Make sure the organization allocates the majority of your donation to its mission. And make sure the products you purchase are actually funding something, and not just a marketing ploy.

All that said, I’m glad people want to help and be aware. And I hope that everyone takes the opportunity this month to check themselves to make sure nothing looks or feels strange or different. I discovered my own cancer by feeling a lump, so doing self-checks matter. Be vigilant, be aware, and be thoughtful.

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Mind Games

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Yesterday was one of those days that could have either gone spectacularly bad or wonderfully good. Thankfully, it was the latter.

My son began his first-ever summer camp yesterday, a swim camp at the pool down the street from our house. He’s been taking lessons for more than a year now from the folks who run the camp, but since my mother-in-law takes care of him during the day, this would be his first time being left somewhere without a family member.

I had no idea how he’d react. He’s very clingy to me, so I expected tears and possibly a full-on meltdown.

To add to that anxiety, I also had a checkup appointment with my oncologist scheduled at the same time camp was to begin. Thankfully, I would be able to drop him off a bit early and with the cancer center being just down the road from my house, if everything went smoothly, I could make it to both things.

While anxiety-inducing, this logistical dance was an almost-welcome distraction from my appointment, wherein I’d receive the results of a brain MRI I had last week, along with my regular blood draw.

Last fall, when I got really sick after my first dose of Taxol, I had to get a brain scan done because they were afraid of brain metastasis. Thankfully, the symptoms I experienced were from the chemo, and the scan was clear, with one small exception–a little cyst on my pituitary gland. My oncologist said it was nothing to be alarmed about, and they would keep an eye on it.

Fast-forward eight months, and here we are, getting a follow-up MRI.

Even though I knew this was sort of a routine maintenance thing, I was still terrified. As the tech said to me almost apologetically as he got me prepped to slide into the tube, “I know nobody wants to be here doing this.” I assured him I didn’t, but I also appreciated that he was there to do the job. There are few things scarier than being rolled into a tiny tube (I don’t know how a claustrophobic would ever survive) that makes noises that sound like the effects from some terrible space invaders B-movie (laser sounds, lots of banging and clanging), knowing that this machine could reveal actual invaders taking over healthy tissue in your body. Martians sort of pale in comparison.

I had to wait a whole week to get the results this time. I tried my best to not think about it, to stay busy and distracted. But sitting in my doctor’s office, staring at the framed photos of his grandkids and a “Doctors have a lot of patience” cross-stitch on the wall, I felt as though I might crawl right out of my skin.

I sometimes wonder what it must be like for my oncologist before he walks into that room. On good days, he delivers news like he gave me–all clear, nothing’s changed, you’re going to be just fine. Others, he tells people things they never want to hear: it’s spread, it’s bigger, it’s not responding to treatment.

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Never has negative been such a sweet word.

I floated out of the cancer center with my clean report in hand, once again feeling an almost overwhelming sense of gratitude. I know how easily my story could change, or have gone awry. I know how many others are suffering and have suffered. So I am thankful for every moment like this. And I’m trying to use these little victories to propel me forward.

Back at camp, my son had a great day, too. There were no tears at drop-off–just a quick kiss and “bye, mom!” as he zoomed off to join the other kids on the playground. That day, he jumped into the pool for the first time without holding the teacher’s hands–a big advance for our previously timid to jump toddler. Both of us, leaping into the future.