Bees in My Bonnet: From the Archives

Bee in the Lavender

October is also Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  Last year my posts during October focused more on breast cancer so here’s a look at some posts from the archives.

Your Man Reminder” is an app and a campaign done by Rethink Breast Cancer.  I find the campain, and the video (hello, shirtless men) highly refreshing compared to some of the other stuff that show up around this time of year.

Breast Cancer is Not a Pink Ribbon takes a look at the work of photographer David Jay.  He also is working to put a new face to awareness campaigns around breast cancer; a raw and powerful one called “The SCAR Project.”

Last year my mother shared her story and our family history of breast cancer in a guest post.

I also watched and reviewed the documentary “Pink Ribbons, Inc.” in a two part series I called, “The Darker Side of Pink.”  Part onePart two.

Read about a woman who made the choice to undergo a double mastectomy and how it affected her life and her self image.

Some of the songs that helped me out when I needed it.

Last year’s “Bees in My Bonnet” wrapping up Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Breast Cancer Ribbon

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Bees in My Bonnet: Wrapping up Breast Cancer Awareness Month

Bee in the Lavender

As October ends and we wrap up the pink month that is breast cancer awareness here are some of the articles I’ve been reading.  In a couple of days I’ll post the second half of The Darker Side of Pink, with my thoughts on the whole thing and some stuff I learned.

I posted this picture on my Facebook page a couple days ago but I wanted to share it here as well in case you missed it.  It hit me pretty hard.  What are you thoughts?

Will Work for Chemo

I refuse to die this way.

When a breast cancer diagnosis doesn’t make you want to deck out in pink.  When is too much more than enough?

NPR’s Michel Martin “speaks with three women — both current and former breast cancer patients — about their challenges, hopes and advice.”

A really great critique of Breast Cancer Awareness Month on xojane by S. E. Smith.  She again writes for the guardian on the commodification of “awareness.”

A write calls for readers to “enjoy October for what it should be…leaves, hot cider, pumpkin patches and warm sweaters… not the massive consumerism mess it has become, thanks to the Kulture.”

A really hard article about finding support for your kids when you’re going through cancer (Warning,  you may need tissues.  I did.)

When you have a strong history of breast cancer in your family sometimes you have to make decisions preventatively.  It is incredibly difficult when you have to decide to get a mastectomy or not before you get cancer.

Author Judy Blume shares her story.

Using lechery for good?  Sex to sell awareness?  Good or not?  You be the judge.

A woman tells her story of knowing that she would need a mastectomy and how her response was to ask her husband not to touch her breasts.

Unfortunately this video is done by the same campaign group that did the amazing “Your Man Reminder App.”  I have to admit, I’m pretty disappointed.  Can’t win them all I guess….

…but, to make you feel better here is the latest app update.  Enjoy!

Guest Post: Cancer and Strong Women, My Heritage

My mom was diagnosed with breast cancer in 1972—she was 42 and I was 10.  It was before chemotherapy, radiation, and breast reconstructive surgery.  She took the bold step of having a radical mastectomy with my dad’s full support, a surgeon who respected her decision, and an attitude in which she never really looked back only forward.  I would say life changed for her, but I’m not really sure it did.  She was glad to be alive, went on with her profession as a college professor, got her doctorate, and she was my mom—she just didn’t have her breasts.

When I was a teenager we talked about it—how her mother, grandmother, and great-grandmother had breast cancer.  At that moment it became my heritage.  Life didn’t change a lot I just started having mammograms earlier than my friends and Mom made sure I knew how to do a self-breast exam.  Life went on, I married a wonderful supportive man who knew my family history, became a veterinarian, and had two girls of my own.  20 years later Mom became a real breast cancer survivor. We always knew she was a miracle but then it became official.  However, when Mom turned 66 cancer entered her life again as she was diagnosed with ovarian cancer.  At first it was thought that maybe this was a manifestation of the previous breast cancer, and then we learned it was a different cancer, but they were linked together genetically.  Gene testing was just rearing its head but she was told that to have those two cancers meant she had to have a breast cancer gene—all of the sudden this family history became very real in our lives.

At this point life did change—it became filled with surgeries, chemotherapy every 3 weeks, blood tests, drugs to control vomiting, deep talks about the future, and learning how to say good-bye to a person who meant the world to me.  I was with Mom for every chemotherapy treatment except the first one, as it was done in the hospital following the initial surgery, and I had to work.   Eventually, I adjusted my work schedule to correlate with her treatment schedule.  Often, our youngest daughter, who at the time was 4, came with me to the cancer treatment center.  We read books together while the toxic drug was poured into Mom’s veins, hoping it would annihilate the cancer cells that were trying to take her from us.  Our relationship changed as I watched this strong independent woman who was my mother and had always been in charge of her life, falter and become unable to make decisions.  She would turn to me for help and it was difficult for me to take that leadership role from her.  Then she would feel better and the reins of life would be returned to her.  We eventually learned how to do this trade back and forth with grace and ease.  For a while, the therapy worked and she went into remission for 3 wonderful years.  Then it returned with a vengeance and wouldn’t respond to the same drugs so different drug protocols were tried; they would work for a while and then not.  Eventually one day Mom looked at me and said, “I’m done, I just want to come home with you.  I want to be in your home, with your family, and you holding me in your arms when I go to meet my God.”

My mom gave it a good fight, tried not to let the cancer rule her life, and went on fulfilling her life goals becoming a mediator and a CASA (Court appointed special advocate for neglected/abused children) in her retirement years but the cancer eventually won the battle.  She died at 72 and I was 39.  Yes, she died in our home and in my arms as she wished.  I provided the hospice care for her, my children learned about death, and I lost one of my best friends at much too young of an age.  My world was not the same but my mother taught me not only how to live but how to die with grace and dignity.

So, here the story changes to my story.  At 42 I had my first lumpectomy and the mass was benign.  5 years later I had a second lumpectomy and the mass was classified as atypical ductal hyperplasia—what they called a pre-pre cancer.  Due to my family history, I consulted with an oncologist who sent me directly to the genetics department to be tested for the BRCA-1 and BRCA-2 gene mutations, with the knowledge that she was 100% sure I would test positive, as was the genetic counselor who took my history.  However, I tested negative.  This is good, right?  Yes and no.  I now know I do not carry the most common breast cancer gene mutations and thus could not have possibly passed them on to my own daughters. Also, my odds of developing breast cancer have dramatically decreased, however, I do not know if my mother carried one of these mutations. There are also other gene mutations that she could have carried and passed on to me—these can’t be tested for because my mother is no longer living.  So, there does remain a cloud around the futures of my daughters and myself.

I am currently seeing my oncologist every 6 months, having a mammogram once a year, and a breast MRI once a year at 6-month intervals.  I have also consulted with a plastic surgeon that does breast reconstructive surgery and am contemplating having a radical mastectomy.  I have previously had my uterus and ovaries removed as preventative measures.  I have always known I would have to make these personal decisions but I figured I would have cancer when making them.  Now, that it is here, without cancer and with the knowledge I have, it feels different then I imagined.  I often feel very raw and overwhelmed by the decisions that are before me.  I have so many more choices than my mother did and different personal health issues that come into play with my decisions, as well.

So, yes cancer has changed my life although it hasn’t hindered my ability to reach life goals it has stretched me, made life more precious to me, and taught me not to take any human relationship I have lightly.  If there is anything to pass on to my girls it is what I learned from my mom—to face life head on without blinders, to be proactive and preventative in action, and to bravely take on whatever gets thrown at you even if it’s cancer and if it is cancer not to let it rule your life.

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Cathy is a Doctor of Veterinary Medicine who specializes in felines.  She loves cooking, baking, and filling her home with people to feed.  She and her loving husband of almost 30 years live in a small town in the Northwest.  Their second daughter recently moved out and they are beginning to enjoy the new-found freedom of an empty nest.  She also happens to be my mother.