• Why October is Hard

    October

    October is here!

    I’m thinking, pumpkin spice lattes! I’m thinking, colder (or, here in Texas, cooler) weather! I’m thinking, Halloween!

    And then I walk past a display of pink coffee mugs and water bottles in the grocery store and I’m thinking:  Fuck. . . it’s breast cancer awareness month.

    Amid the fun fall colors is an onslaught of pink. Pink t-shirts, pink shoes, pink water bottles.

    Pink, pink, pink, pink.

    I used to like pink. Breast cancer awareness month used to be something that happened in the background of my fall colored Octobers. I used to look at pink ribbons and feel a brief stab of pity for the sad sacks that had breast cancer, but hey, at least they got a pretty ribbon!

    I did the Susan G. Komen 5k in 2003 for fun. It was the first race I ever ran. On the back of all the race numbers there was a section that read, “running in support of” or “running in memory of”.

    Twelve years later and six months out of cancer treatment, it’s now all too easy to see my children writing my name under the second one.

    I did the race again a few years ago in memory of my friend Patti. And, of course, I did it last year in honor of myself.

    Each time I saw survivors held up like heroes. Like October was a celebration. I saw slogans on homemade signs saying ‘We will beat this!’ and ‘Fight! Fight! Fight!’ There was a definite pep rally vibe in the air. The only thing missing was Queen’s We Will Rock You playing in the background.

    This October is different. This year, I’m one of the survivors.

    Now that I’ve seen the other side of breast cancer, seen beyond the pink ribbon curtain, I don’t feel triumphant and I don’t feel like a hero.

    I’m just one more scared woman who emerged from breast cancer treatment like a shaky fawn taking its first steps. I’m not trying to be inspirational. The only thing I’m trying to do is go back to normal while being desperately aware I have to find a new normal.

    Breast cancer awareness month makes people feel good, like they’re on top of things. It makes people believe that if they eat right and exercise and not smoke and know their family history and perform self breast exams and have regular mammograms that cancer won’t happen. Not to them.

    Here’s some awareness for you: I did all of those things and I got it anyway.

    There is one glaring omission from breast cancer awareness month. It skips over the ‘sometimes shit just happens’ cause of cancer. This cause is hard to accept, I know. Believe me, I know.

    October’s pink ribbons almost make breast cancer sexy.

    Folks, breast cancer is not sexy.

    The pretty pink ribbons adorning every available surface resemble exactly nothing of my experience with cancer. But pretty pink ribbons sell better than bald heads and mastectomy scars.

    Please don’t misunderstand. I appreciate that the pink ribbons are a show of support. I respect that your wife or mother or daughter or husband or father or son (yes, men can get breast cancer, too) is either battling breast cancer or ‘lost the fight’, as the saying goes.

    I no longer believe that the amount of fight in a person is the determining factor if they’ll live or die. My friend Patti was the fightiest person I knew. It killed her and, so far, has spared me. So excuse me if I don’t want to participate in the festival of pink ribbons.

    A friend of mine served in the military. From the little I’ve heard him discuss, he was in the thick of some pretty nasty shit. Now he’s adjusting to a world in which he is not at war.

    I asked him once the best way to say ‘thank you’ to a member of the armed services. His response surprised me. And yet, it was familiar, too.

    He said he doesn’t understand being thanked. He said, “What are they thanking me for? For not dying? For watching my friends die?” He doesn’t know what to say back so he just accepts the ‘thank you’ and keeps moving on the best he knows how.

    That’s how I feel when someone calls me a hero or tells me I’m inspirational. I haven’t done anything I wouldn’t normally do except not die. I don’t see how that makes me a hero. Like my veteran friend, I’m just relearning to put one foot in front of the other.

    Because the battle isn’t over once treatment ends.

    I still have nightmares and anxiety attacks at night. Sometimes I dream treatment has started over and I have no hair. These are the good nights because I feel a surge of relief upon waking and finding hair on my head. These are the nights when it’s easy to remind myself I survived.

    The bad nights are when I dream about having long hair, like none of it ever happened. I wake to a crushing depression when my hand discovers my hair is still very short and I remember how it got that way. These are the nights I lie awake wondering how long I will live.

    I still live with frequent daily hot flashes from the Tamoxifen. I still panic every time I get a headache thinking the cancer is back and this time it’s in my brain.

    I still envision how badly I’ll hurt my loved ones after I’ve died. And (I hate this the most), I still pick out songs for my funeral and quotes for my gravestone, because, deep down, I still don’t believe I’ll live to see forty.

    I still try to prepare for the worst even though I know no preparation will ever be adequate. I live every day feeling my own mortality wrapped around my shoulders like a blanket.

    Dealing with all that and then BAM! Pink ribbons everywhere.

    It’s too much.

    Perhaps it’s just too soon, the wound too fresh. Maybe someday I’ll want to participate in all the pink October has to offer. Right now, October is a thirty one day reminder of a long march through hell.

    My plea: Yes, it’s breast cancer awareness month but be please be conscious of how the word ‘cancer’ makes survivors feel. To us, to me, it’s not a celebration. We feel each story of loss to cancer, breast or otherwise, personally and deeply.

    I vote to let October go back to being about pumpkin spice everything and planning Halloween costumes.

    Xoxo,

    Meghan

13 Responsesso far.

  1. Tina Gower says:

    That that totally sucks that you’re assaulted still with the memory of having cancer, so I looked up what else October is in awareness of (compliment of Wikipedia–and I cut out the Breast Cancer…hahah that pun totally works, especially for our morbid dark humor):

    National Physical Therapy Month (USA)[44]
    Eczema Awareness Month[45]
    Alzheimer’s Awareness
    Black History Month (United Kingdom)
    National Bullying Prevention Month (USA)
    National CyberSecurity Awareness Month[46]
    National Disability Employment Awareness Month[9]
    National Fire Prevention Month[47]
    National Information Literacy Awareness Month
    National Italian American Heritage Month[9]
    National Domestic Violence Awareness Month
    National Hispanic Heritage Month (U.S.; September 15 to October 15)
    National Work and Family Month[48]
    Polish American Heritage Month
    LGBTQ History Month (U.S.; October All Month)[49]
    Raynaud’s Awareness Month
    Down syndrome awareness month
    National infant loss and miscarriage awareness month
    Dwarfism Awareness Month
    National Energy Awareness Month
    Dysautonomia Awareness month http://www.dysautonomiainternational.org/
    National vaccine injury month

    I don’t know about you, but I’ve picked my favorites off the list. I want to delete “National Fire Prevention Month” Because who gets to prevent most fires? Most people in Siskiyou county who lost a house last year, didn’t get an opportunity to “prevent” anything. Boo. Unless you can stop idiots with matches, lightening, and bad wiring hidden in your attic.

    Kinda sucks that some like Domestic Violence and Eczema and Bullying and Physical Therapy get eclipsed by all the pink as well. Hey, don’t you have Eczema, too? So do I. I think we should get crusty grey ribbons that flake off little bits of dandruff to symbolize that and go to town with awareness on it. Let’s make October slightly more fun again. I know that the pink will always be there. I’ve hated pink since the dawn of time. I approve of your plans to nuke it.

    (And yes, yes, I like the support cancer patients and survivors get. And people will always support you, so you’ll just have to deal, so there! Just wanted to have a little fun 😉

    *pins on crusty grey ribbon* GO ECZEMA! fight, Fight, FIGHT! *plays Eye of a Tiger*

  2. Pat S says:

    Well, Meghan, just thanks for still being here!! My birthday is on October 13th, but I will think of you during the month, and other months as well. And, if it is any consolation to you, I have never thought of you as normal…..

  3. […] Meghan offers a powerful critique of Breast Cancer Awareness month in her essay “Why October is Hard.” […]

  4. Dona says:

    Hi, I found you through Rowdy Kittens. Thank you for writing this. I’m still mid-treatment (just recovered from my last chemo and my hair is starting to grow!) and your words describe so much of how I’ve been feeling this month. Mostly I’m pissed off that the conversation around those ribbons is about awareness, and that false hope of safety you describe, while there is so little real discussion or science focused on prevention. No one really knows why we get this disease or why younger and younger women are getting tumors. Let’s talk about that, if we’re going to have a public conversation about breast cancer.

  5. marriannad says:

    Thank you for this post, Meghan. Here in Flagstaff, AZ, different organizations are creating ARTSY BRAS for October’s Breast Cancer Awareness. It doesn’t make it any less scary but it’s the best we can do. I participated in the project several years ago and again this year. It’s also a fund raiser for research and assistance. I haven’t done the 5K run or walk and probably won’t ever do it. You are quite an inspiration in your writing and your spirit.

  6. Roseblossom says:

    Amen sister

  7. Karen says:

    My brother died of colon cancer. I still have the magnetic blue ribbon on the back of my car. It’s been 4 years since he died. That ribbon doesn’t remind me of him. It reminds me that I have to have a colonoscopy every 5 years because he died. October is the month I’m supposed to have it. I haven’t made the appointment. I was away on a trip for most of Sept. and the first week of Oct. I have been sick with the flu since getting home and then herniated a disc in my lower back a few days ago. I don’t want to have a colonoscopy or a mammogram. I went 8 yrs without a mammogram. I had one this year. It was fine. I know I have to have it and as soon as I’m well enough to go (no pun intended), I will make the appointment.
    I hate pink. I don’t think it has anything to do with it now being the symbol of breast cancer. I do know that I don’t donate to that well-known foundation that uses the pink ribbon on everything to make a profit so they can pay their CEO a ridiculous amount of money while only giving 20% to breast cancer research. I donate to the National Cancer Research because it spends more on all cancer research. When I worked for the Red Cross, I was amazed at how many young women had been treated for cervical cancer and breast cancer. Why? Has anyone researched this? Cervical cancer may be from being more sexually active at a younger age. Breast cancer? They don’t even recommend mammograms until after 40. I don’t think cancer is choosy. It will attack anyone. I pray for everyone that is ill. I pray for the people who survive their illnesses. We need to be choosy when it comes to who gets our donation dollars. When I donate $50, the larger percentage better be going to research and not in some CEO’s pocket.
    I’m glad to have met you. You have the strength and courage to say the truth that not many people want to hear.

  8. Roberta says:

    High five. I didn’t have breast cancer but just posted an entry about how I don’t Pink Up, even though I’m a “survivor.” I agree with you – what did I survive? not dying? Learning to eat in a whole new way? Not fun, not glamorous, and nothing pink about it. Kudos, and be well. Thank you!

  9. […] Why October is Hard on Getting the Words Wrong. All I can say is […]

  10. mom says:

    I really don’t have words to express my feelings. Dad has not read this one. Baby steps and I love you. Mom

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