October is here again; the obligatory post or video needs to be made because I’m part of this club that somehow, I became a member of. Not a willing participant at all, as nobody is in these kinds of clubs, but nonetheless it’s something I’m part of.

I sit back and think of all the new people that have come into my life over this last year because of this disease. I also sit back and think of who is no longer here because of this disease.

I have said this before and I will say it again, I hate everything about this month. I hate the word “awareness”, I hate the color pink, & most of all, I hate that they continue to promote mammograms and early detection as some sort of cure or prevention for breast cancer. So, what do I want them to concentrate on? Stage IV, breast cancer that has metastasized; METS. The breast cancer that people are dying from. The one that early detection doesn’t do anything for, the one that needs the most attention. The one that is too scary to talk about, so they don’t, instead they make you think that if you catch it early, no matter what, all will be good. Bullshit.

I’m what METS patients refer to as an “early stager”, one of the lucky ones. Someone that cannot begin to understand what they go through daily. I agree with that statement. How could I not? At this moment I show no sign of disease (term oncologist uses), something that they do not have the luxury of hearing. EVER. They will never hear that statement. Let me say it again, someone with Stage IV will NEVER hear that they have “no sign of disease” in their lifetime. They will die from this disease. I cannot compete with that, nor would I want to. This is one of the main reasons I never joined a cancer support group; I never wanted to be “out-cancered”.   This is of course is not a competition, but when your world is falling apart that’s really all you are thinking about, YOUR world.  And how bad it is in YOUR world & nobody could have it as bad as you. This isn’t always the case & I’m not ashamed to say, I wanted it to be all about me, and I didn’t want to hear about anyone else’s story, because, it wasn’t my story.  I would be lying if I said I don’t understand someone looking at me and my situation and thinking that I had it easy. I get it, however, I still had cancer and I’m entitled to feel how I want with no conditions and no feelings of guilt for being one of the “lucky ones”. In addition, I have a 30% chance of this asshole coming back into my life so I’m going to be grateful for this moment & I’m not going to compare my story to anyone’s because that’s not fair to me or to them. But, what I will do is stand up for what I think should be done, and to me that is fighting for the proper research for the people who cannot fight anymore.

So, how do we do that?

DON’T get sucked into the pink hype. Don’t presume that the pink water bottle you just purchased is going to send any proceeds to a breast cancer organization. Anyone can put a pink ribbon on an item, the ribbon is not regulated & this fact is not known by many. I assumed at one time that anything I bought that was pink or had the ribbon was helping the epidemic, it was a cruel reality to find out that wasn’t true.

DON’T assume that anyone with stage IV (METS) must have missed their annual screenings, ignored a lump or didn’t notice a change in their breast. Unfortunately, some women diagnosed with late stage breast cancer were diligent about their annual exams or had no signs or symptoms.

DO donate to worthy breast cancer charities. There are some great organizations out there; one for example is metavivor.org, all proceeds go towards research and finding a cure. These are the people that need our money, these are the people who are trying to make an actual difference.

DO understand that being “aware” isn’t just about mammograms, early detection, and catchy taglines. It’s about knowing that this disease is relentless and doesn’t discriminate. It’s about knowing that every 14 minutes somebody dies in the US from breast cancer. It’s about knowing that stage IV is incurable.

Lastly, what you can do this October is schedule your screening no matter your age. If you have read anything I have written in the past you know I will always push for proper screening. So, whether it’s a mammogram, ultrasound, or an MRI, find the right method for you and be consistent. Because even though you can do everything right and still get cancer, in a lot of cases, catching it early can help stack the odds in your favor.

Denise, that’s her name.

Over the past 5 years that breast cancer has been part of my life, I have met and talked to a lot of people this disease has affected.  Sadly, some of those people are no longer with us; the disease took over.  My heart would break every time I heard about another death, but truth be known, I didn’t have a personal relationship with any of the people that passed away.  They were part of my “cancer world”, but not part of my “before cancer world”.

That is, until a few months ago.  Someone who I cared about, someone who I spent holidays with, someone who I had a special bond (a bond based on the cancer diagnosis that we shared) passed away.  Metastatic breast cancer; liver and brain, she was gone within 2 weeks.  Denise, that’s her nameNot “was”, IS her name.  Denise is my brother in-laws mother, a woman who lived with METS for 11 years.  When originally diagnosed, it was already in her bones.  11 years, she dealt with pain that most people couldn’t even begin to comprehend.  Pain that took over her life and made it very difficult to do things we all take for granted.  However, besides her inner circle, who were very aware of her pain and anguish, she never let anyone else in on it.  I never heard her complain, I only knew about the pain because of what my sister and my brother in-law would tell me, Denise would never utter a word.  Too proud, too scared, I’m not sure, but I know she didn’t like to talk about the elephant in the room, that her time here was limited.  Anyone who has read anything I have written knows how vocal I have been about everything cancer related, Denise was the exact opposite.  I remember her whispering in my ear one holiday, so that nobody else would hear, that she read one of my blogs and she couldn’t agree more with what I said.  I thanked her, and we started to talk about something else, because I respected her need to not talk about the cancer.   I always followed her lead; I screamed it from the rooftops, and she appreciated it, she told me, but that just wasn’t her.  Bitterness is part of a cancer diagnosis, no matter your age or stage, it’s very hard to let that go. And that was the case for Denise; she was pissed she was going to die, she was pissed she was in pain.  That bitterness was only shown to the people she loved the most and who loved her just as much.

She was so much more than a woman living with METS; she was a wife, a mom, a grandma, a nurse, and a fantastic cook!!  And I’m not talking about a home cook, I’m talking on the gourmet level.  Thanksgiving was her holiday to really show her skills and she never disappointed! One year she made Spatchcocked Turkey with anise & orange; the only 2 words I recognized or could pronounce for that matter was turkey and orange!  However, it was delicious, as everything she made always was.  Another year, the menu included a rye, kale, mushroom & pumpkin seed stuffing.  No traditional dishes for Denise, the more complicated & challenging, the more she wanted to do it.  She not only made 90% of the food for dinner, but she made most of the desserts also.  All homemade, from scratch, no shortcuts.  The planning, the time, the effort that went into those meals would be hard for anyone, but for someone like Denise with the level of pain she endured daily, this was an achievement that wasn’t lost on any of us lucky enough to sit at that table with her.  Thanksgiving will never be the same.

I’m glad she is no longer in pain & I choose to believe she is truly in a better place.  I will never say cancer beat her, in fact, I refuse to say that, what I will say is Denise quit cancer; she had enough.  So, now I sit here trying to accept the reality that I have lost someone who I cared deeply for to a disease that has personally affected me.  Denise, that’s her name.