The past couple of weeks have been rough. I lost someone in my personal circle to breast cancer, another in my professional circle, and learned a dear friend was recently diagnosed. As a woman and as a psychotherapist who works in Alpharetta with women affected by breast cancer, I am certainly familiar with October - Breast Cancer Awareness Month (BCAM). Walks for breast cancer research, pink ribbons for survivors, flyers, handouts, and articles encouraging women to pay attention to breast health and get mammograms. All of which are positive, helpful and encouraging. Many survivors find strength in pink ribbons and becoming part of the cause can be a way to help process and make sense of their experience.
For others who have had breast cancer, are currently in treatment, or who have been diagnosed with metastatic disease (stage IV/advanced), October and pink ribbons can trigger a waterfall of emotions including tears, frustration and even anger. The emotional cost of breast cancer can weigh heavily on survivors and BCAM can be a painful reminder of the trauma they’ve experienced and all they’ve lost, bringing attention to a time of their lives they’re trying desperately to forget.
And then there are the women with advanced cancer. Some had cancer that was detected early and over the years, after holding tight to the label “survivor,” discovered their cancer returned. Others, who even after yearly mammograms and good health, had the shattering diagnosis of stage IV cancer without warning.
For me, this is a month of humility, as I am reminded of the friends, family, clients and group members who have passed away or who are thriving in spite of this disease. I am in awe of their grace and vulnerability as they desire to have just one day, one hour or even one moment of the innocence of ‘just needing a routine mammogram’ or not having the “cancer” label. Many feel and look well, maintaining a treatment course that keeps everything stable while keeping the secret of their diagnosis and side effects for years from all but a close few.
So this month, as you think about pink ribbons, self-exams, and routine mammograms for prevention, be sensitive that not all women affected by breast cancer embrace pink. That doesn’t mean they are against BCAM, are “Negative Nellies,” or aren’t grateful for all that awareness has brought to the cause. They are immensely grateful and hope that the pink cause helps even one person to avoid what they have been through. It may just be they’d like to feel normal for a minute and forget that pink applies to them. Whatever their feelings, I feel honored to be part of their journey.
Karen Whitehead is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker and Clinical Hypnotherapist helping women, their families and caregivers sleep better, reduce anxiety and be more than their diagnosis.