Somewhere out on Facebook you can find a picture of my friend Amy’s bare breasts. They are there with her permission. It is a picture of truth, of power, and even illusion. It is a picture of a real life journey.
Amy was diagnosed with cancer last February. She was “lucky”. She had “the best kind”. (Insert eye roll here.)
In one of those “only us” moments, I had the Gracie Foundation send her a care package. This is a charity that sends little gifts of encouragement to women undergoing cancer treatment. I’ve known of them for a while and sent a few gifts to women over the years. Nice idea, huh?
So Amy gets her gift and looks them up online and reads the biography of the founder. She messaged me “Did you know about the woman who started this organization?” I did, but had not read her story for a long while. I’d forgotten the specifics. She was a local lady and while I didn’t know her personally many of my friends and family did. So I had somewhat followed her story over the years, but from a distance.
It turnd out that she had the exact same kind of cancer as Amy. She elected to have a bi-lateral mastectomy anyway (as Amy did). And like Amy she was told the statistic that only 2% of women die from this cancer. But Gracie (Gail Germain) was that 2%. She died in 2015.
Pretty encouraging for my friend, huh? Ground swallow me up now. As I said, “only us” moments. Yep….only I would choose that particular way to boost her spirits and it have that sort of twist. And only Amy would have a friend who would send her straight to a story of a negative outcome of her “good” type of cancer. But Amy said it was a reminder that she was going to always have to be vigilant. One thing I believe…. that should be a truth for us all.
We need to pay attention to our bodies. We need to take it seriously when we just don’t feel “right”. We need to feel for lumps, watch moles, notice changes in our body, and we need to talk about it. Show and tell. All of it. Even when it is embarrassing. That is how we learn. That is how we get diagnosed quicker.
Amy shared every step of the journey. When she was diagnosed, when she decided to have the double mastectomy (and why she went a route others felt was perhaps extreme), when she chose her surgeons, when she had her surgery, when she was recovering, when she had her reconstruction, and down to when she had her nipples tattooed. At times her story was graphic…because Amy’s not afraid of graphic and knows people need to pay attention. At times it was difficult and painful, emotionally and physically. And at times it was funny….because Amy always brings the funny. But she needed her cancer to have a purpose. Because she was open, she has been able to talk with other women going through the same thing. She has been able to teach someone like me what it looks like and feels like and where a mind goes throughout the process. If I don’t need the information myself (and I know it could happen), I’ll possibly be able to help someone else.
I think the lesson is this….don’t be a “c word” person. Say the words. It’s cancer. Speak up and talk about it. If you have had cancer, tell your story. Don’t let it consume you…. you’re more than a cancer survivor and you have a great life to live….but also when it comes up in a conversation don’t be afraid to speak up. Your story can save lives. Even if you think “it wasn’t as bad as some” or “it’s personal” or “no one wants to hear about my medical problems.”
It stuns me when I hear stories like the one where 13 doctors were seen before a young woman is diagnosed with ovarian cancer. When I find that people think breast cancer is a woman’s disease (men can get it, too.) When colon cancer isn’t diagnosed because people are afraid to tell their doctor what is going on with their body. When the idea of a colonoscopy, a mammogram, or a PSA exam freaks someone out to the point that they are scared to get them. Tell a friend. Go scared. Be embarrassed. Whatever it takes. Tackle it head on. Fight. For you….and for everyone else. Be persistent. If you know something is not right, trust your instincts and yell bloody murder until some medical professional pays attention and figures it out.
Amy shared all the stages and even let her pictures be used to show other women the difference a couple of tattooes can make. She told her story, the good, the bad, the ugly….and the beautiful. And she told us to tell her story…so some of you will stop running scared and face what you need to face.
As Amy says, just say nope….to cancer or anything else trying to bring you down. Don’t let it win. We need you. My precious friend did not volunteer to get cancer, but is determined God will use it for good in the world. And by the way…..there is no good cancer. Let’s get rid of that fallacy. It’s all the enemy…..and a vicious one. It can sneak up and take your life quickly. Stand guard. Be vigilant. Always.