Last year, I found myself reflecting on all the pinkness of October. I recall thinking that October will always mean something different for me. I blogged about how I wanted to kill all the tacky fundraisers and really talk about what it means to experience breast cancer – it isn’t about pink ribbons.
This year, my Pinktober experience has been different. I haven’t seen so many outwardly offensive advertising campaigns. No pink drill bits. No show your boobies for breast cancer advertisements – which is by the one, of the most offensive things one can do for breast cancer survivors, many of whom are suffering from severe issues with body image.
This year, my Pintober actually began in September. First with my presentation at the Queens University of Belfast ePatient blogging and microblogging conference (#qubept). There, I gave a presentation on the impact breast cancer blogs have on those who read them. In that presentation, I weaved in my personal story with the data I got from the survey. I really enjoyed writing in that mixed paradigm – as both a cancer survivor and as an academic. You can read my presentation here or see the recording here.
A couple of days after returning from Northern Ireland, one of the support groups that I’m a part of launched their new book “Shivering in a Paper Gown: Breast Cancer and its Aftermath: An Anthology”. One of the stories in the book (page 20) is based off of a couple of blog posts I wrote, titled “Breast that are not Breasts“. I read the story to a very packed room at the book launch.
With that, Pinktober began and for the most part I ignored it. A friend asked me to write a blog post about what advice I would give for anyone going through cancer now – along the lines of a lesson I learned that I wish I knew before treatment. She wrote a lovely post that integrated the thoughts from six women – although I’d personally change the title to add the work survivors at the end, as the lessons are not from “breast cancer” but rather from breast cancer survivors: Six Lessons Learned From Breast Cancer. It felt more like what I was seeing this year in Pinktober – more useful resources and less tacky marketing.
Another friend lunched an important project for research on metastatic breast cancer. If you have mets, I highly recommend you take a look at the Metastatic Breast Cancer project (https://www.mbcproject.org/). There is also a Facebook group for those who wish to follow using that media.
The other aspect of October that I am much more aware of this year is BRA day (yesterday). More specifically Breast Cancer Reconstruction Awareness Day. The shorthand BRAday makes me think of all things tacky about breast cancer; however, I think the movement itself is an important one. I had someone reach out to me about I post I wrote last year where I struggled with the vanity of breast reconstruction. Early in my breast cancer treatment I was completely incensed about how I was informed about breast reconstruction. Perhaps it was because it was a male surgeon who said it? Perhaps it was because he just got finished telling me I had cancer, and needed a double-mastectomy, but the “good news” was the insurance had to pay for reconstruction. It wasn’t the message I was ready to hear – but for many women it is a message that needs to be heard, because they are not getting it. They don’t know that the option is available to them.
For me, my breast reconstruction decision is every present when I swim (which is frequently). Every time I put on my bathing suit and walk out to the pool, I’m highly aware of how my reconstruction decision means that I don’t need to worry about prosthetics or how I look in the pool.
I’ve joined a swanky gym (something I can only afford because of the deal I get from the wonderful folks at Sunflower Wellness). It is more of a country club then a gym. They do, however, have good cardio machines and a great adult swimming pool. Actually, they have two 25 meter pools, the one that is adult only is a couple degrees cooler and almost always available for lane swimming – plus it is a clean salt-water pool – truly wonderful! After my swim yesterday, I notice there were a lot of people tanning or just hanging out in the lounge chairs around the pool. I felt like all eyes were on me as I walked to the change room. Feeling like I didn’t ‘belong’ in this swanky club. But, the pool is great and open all winter (my condo pool closes at the end of the month). I’m going to continue going to the gym, but will probably try to get there a little earlier in the day when the pool is area is less crowded (the pool itself wasn’t that busy).
The women’s locker room is a bit of a challenge for me. Many of the women walk around naked. I am very self-aware about my scars. I opt to be as discrete as possible when I’m changing into my swim suit or getting dressed after my shower. I don’t think that I would have had the inner strength to manage this had I not had reconstruction. Now I find myself wondering if the women in the club think that I did it strictly for vanity reasons?
I also find myself contemplating nipple tattoos. A few months ago I bought some rub-on tattoos but haven’t had the courage to try them. Now I find myself wondering if putting them on would give me more confidence at the gym? My friend Stacey talks about how the rub-on tattoos help with inner confidence. In some ways, it is part of the healing process, and part of the reclaiming process. We are reclaiming our female bodies after cancer has taken parts away. I may seem vane or trivial, but it is not. It is a small thing that we CAN do. As a ‘young’ person being thrust into menopause, having all the estrogen in my body blocked in order to prevent breast cancer recurrence, I cling to the aspects of femininity that I can control. I try to fight the side effects by exercising, and strengthening. I need the self confidence that allows me to workout at the gym, and swim in the pool, and change in the women’s locker room.
So this year, October is just a month, like any other month. It is one where I am working on both inner strength and outer strength. I am working on healing.