Breast Cancer Awareness: Why I Will Be Wearing a Bra on October 13

There is a meme floating about the Internet these days suggesting a great way to honor women with breast cancer is to opt out of wearing a bra on Sunday, October 13.  Just let it all hang out and have fun with it! seems to be the message.  Yada, yada, yada.  Yeah, no thank you.  Call me a stick in the mud, call me a prude, call me cranky, hell, call me a pink party pooper, but I don’t think a great way to support our sisters (and mothers and aunts and daughters and friends and neighbors) with breast cancer is to let our girls go flapping in the breeze.  This blogger, a woman coping with breast cancer herself, says it much better than I do.

This is not the bra I will be wearing, but you get the idea.
This is not the bra I will be wearing, but you get the idea.

What is the point of an exercise like this, exactly?  To me, it sounds a whole lot like “cancer cute.”  Cancer is a lot of things — profound, life changing, brutal, wrenching, exhausting, terrifying.  Cancer is not cute.  Cell mutation is hella serious.  Chemo?  Not cute. Radiation is a bitch.  And surgery is way too invasive to be cute.

But who am I to talk about breast cancer?  I am known as a pediatric cancer advocate and typically stay mum in October. No doubt, some of the month is spent recovering from the fatigue of making folks aware that September gold is the color of childhood cancer, much like pink is the color of breast cancer.  Some of the silence can be attributed to my daughter’s death anniversary falling in the same month.  And if I am really honest, it’s that breast cancer has simply not impacted my day-to-day the way childhood cancer has.

That feels different now.

The older I get and the broader my circles become through this here Internet, I now know people whose day-to-days have been drastically impacted by breast cancer.  And their experiences have nothing to do with pink or touting tatas or cancer cute.  It is hard to be light and cute when the reality of words like widower and relapse are your day-to-day.

Truth is, I have the utmost respect for people who have spent time in Cancerville.  There is a shorthand, a knowingness, that comes with the territory.  If that knowledge originated in your child or your brain or your breasts or your colon, well, the common denominator of cancer seems to be enough of a bond.

And, as a nod to that bond, and a show of love, admiration, and support, I wanted to introduce you to three folks in my life whose knowledge of and relationship with breast cancer runs a hell of a lot deeper than wearing a bra on October 13 will or will not impact.  Their efforts on behalf of breast cancer have nothing to do with trivializing it or being “cancer cute.”  They have all used their own experiences to reach out to others to educate and inform and empathize.  I am so proud of them.

Colleen.  The first person I want to introduce you to is my cousin Colleen. Just three months ago, Colleen was diagnosed with breast cancer.  She wrote about it recently through a Facebook status update in an attempt to make other women in her circle aware of the importance of early diagnosis, self-examination, and self-care.  Here are her words:

I am a 44 year old woman. I found a small hard lump in my left breast. I knew that it wasn’t there the month before, because I did monthly breast exams. As I gathered my composure, I thought about the conversation my Mom and I had before she died 11 years ago. “Col, ANYTIME you notice something different about your body, it is GOD’s way of saying that something is wrong! Don’t ignore it!!!!”  So, I took immediate action. I called and made an appointment with my gynecologist. She set me up for a mammogram and I had an appointment within days.

I told my family that I was diagnosed with early stage one breast cancer and I had found the lump through a self -breast examination. It was invasive ductal carcinoma and ductal carcinoma in situ of the left breast.

I go for yearly mammograms and within six months it was brewing in me and I didn’t know it? Within a month a lump appeared? My doctor told me that I was very lucky that I found that lump. She said that within that short amount of time it was already invasive and would have spread to the lymph nodes if it wasn’t for that self-breast exam. I am cancer free. Not many women are lucky enough to say that they had cancer for a MONTH!

I am not out of the woods completely. I still need 6 weeks of radiation five times a week, and may need chemo, but I no longer have cancer. If you remember reading this, and God forbid you find a lump, take immediate action. My heart breaks for all those brave women who are still fighting breast cancer. I am one of the lucky ones. – Colleen

Teppi.  Being part of a blogging network has exposed me to so many interesting and diverse people I never would have met otherwise.  One of those folks I have been lucky to meet is fellow ChicagoNow blogger, Teppi.  We got closer after I wrote Donna’s Cancer Story and Teppi shared her own experience as a breast cancer survivor.  I felt her empathy because of our proximity in Cancerville.  We both spoke the same language.

Teppi, after ten years being cancer free, was recently diagnosed with a relapse of her breast cancer.  She is currently undergoing treatment.  After her relapse, Teppi learned that she was positive for the BRCA1 gene mutation, which happens to be the exact same gene mutation that prompted Angelina Jolie to have the double mastectomy surgery she wrote about in a New York Times op ed piece that was met with both support and concern.

As the mother of two beautiful (like total knock out beautiful) daughters in their 20s, Teppi has become a strong voice on behalf of testing for the BRCA gene mutation.  She understands that just as she carries the gene, so may her daughters.  Using her blog as a platform this month, Teppi has been sharing a series of guest posts each week day in October.  It is an extraordinary way of learning more about this tool and how women are integrating the information (knowledge = power) into their choices.  You can read the entire series here.

Other women should never have to go through what I have – there needs to be a raising of awareness about the BRCA gene and hereditary breast and ovarian cancer. This knowledge can help save lives. Sharing these women’s stories can do just that. – Teppi

Angelo.    I was introduced to Angelo’s work, a photo documentary of his wife Jennifer’s treatment for breast cancer called The Battle We Didn’t Choose, on the Facebook wall of a friend about two years ago.  I was immediately taken with not only the quality of Angelo’s art, but its beauty and intensity as well.  He does with photos what I try to do with words.  Our missions are similar, but the visual impact of seeing Jen captured in all phases of her treatment is powerful and immediate and magnetic.

Photo used courtesy of Angelo Merendino
Photo used courtesy of Angelo Merendino

Jen died in December 2011.  Angelo is now a young widower.  Such a hard word.  He, like Jen, is magnetic.  His work is purposeful and important and has helped people impacted by breast cancer across the globe feel seen and understood and less alone.  After Jen’s death, Angelo has worked tirelessly to tell the story of her cancer through gallery showings, magazine articles, news interviews, and an active Facebook community known as, My Wife’s Fight With Breast Cancer.

Last month, Angelo had a dream realized with the digital publishing of his book The Battle We Didn’t Choose:  My Wife’s Fight with Breast Cancer.  It can be purchased through the Apple iTunes store or directly through Angelo’s website in a PDF format.  50% of all profits generated by the book will be donated to The Love You Share, Angelo’s non-profit that works to provide financial assistance for cancer patients.  It is a moving and very human tribute to love and marriage and life and bonds that transcend.

So there it is.  I will wear my bra on Sunday in honor of Colleen and Teppi and Jen and Angelo and all of you who live a life impacted by breast cancer.  I don’t think what you experience is lightened in the least by gimmicks or ploys or pretty pink yogurt lids or electric mixers that corporate America profits from.  Cancer is some serious shit.  It deserves our respect because of the total command it is capable of in the lives it touches.  And I promise that the bra I wear won’t be pink.

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