Today is October 15th, which means there are only 16 more days to endure of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I hate Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I have several reasons, not least of which is the relentless merchandising – suddenly, pink ribbons are on everything from laundry detergent to cereal boxes.
For me, every day is breast cancer awareness day. For all of us who have dealt with it, either personally or within our family and friend circles, when the hoopla ends and the ribbons are put away, on November first breast cancer will continue to be a part of our everyday lives.
I try not to let it dominate my life; after all, I did survive and it’s been a long time, so it’s relatively easy to let it slip into the background. Except that my torso is virtually encircled by scars. And I can’t wear prostheses because the radiation burns left me with permanent pain on one side, right on the spot where a bra would press on my rib cage.
It’s much more comfortable for me to go without a bra or prostheses. But that means clothing doesn’t always fit correctly, because women’s tops are made to accommodate breasts. And it means that the arm holes of sleeveless tops hang lower than they should, and my scars show. I’m not embarrassed of the scars; without them I’d be dead. But I prefer to not put them on display.
Reconstruction? I knew you’d ask. People always do. At first I couldn’t get reconstructed because one of the three types of cancer I had was inflammatory, which often comes back quickly and therefore no surgeon will do reconstruction until at least two years have passed. I had eight surgeries in 3 ½ years, and by the end, the idea of more surgery turned my stomach. But here’s the basic truth: It’s not important enough to me that I would endure the several operations necessary. I don’t care whether or not I have breasts. I care that I’m alive and healthy.
Having chosen to forego breast reconstruction, I have become a role model for other women, and that is something I am grateful for. In fact, there is much about having cancer that I am grateful for, including the impetus it gave me to finally do something I’d longed to do, begin a master’s degree program in Jewish education. And that led to eventually becoming a rabbi.
(More than five years ago I wrote about the up side of experiencing the trauma of a horrible diagnosis; you’ll find that post here: https://srqjew.wordpress.com/2012/04/13/post-traumatic-growth/)
There is no way to know what my life would be like today without breast cancer, or what kind of person I would be. It changed me in profound ways that I did not understand then, or five years ago, or even today. I have accepted that it is an integral part of who I am. And I know that I am a better rabbi because like almost everyone I encounter, I too have suffered.
And I learned that trauma is trauma. Mine is no more significant than yours, yours no more life altering than mine. Life is full of traumatic moments, events, diagnoses.
But I’m still not a fan of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Don’t get me wrong. I’m grateful that Susan G. Komen’s sister started a research and fundraising organization. I’m grateful that my brother Richy Glassberg is a founding board member of breastcancer.org and is their star fundraiser. I’m glad that people participate in Race for the Cure. And I’m glad that so many women and men are surviving and going on to live happy, healthy lives.
Just don’t offer me yet another piece of pink jewelry shaped like a ribbon.