When I was diagnosed with stage one breast cancer in 1990, October was still the month we loved for the spectacular show of colors as the leaves changed and gave us a glorious prelude to the gloom of the winter months to come. Not long after, however, October became what many now refer to as “pinktober.” Thanks to Nancy Brinker and “Komen for the Cure” as well as many other organizations, the 31 days of the month became less about scenery, Halloween and the 3-day Columbus Day weekend and more about all things pink. We walked to raise money in October and bought everything from yogurt to cars to support breast cancer awareness. Even local newspapers got into the act by printing their papers on pink paper (which, if you’ve never tried to read a newspaper printed on pink, is one of the most annoying things about Breast Cancer Awareness Month!)
In the nineteen October’s that came and went between my initial diagnosis and my stage 4 diagnosis (made in October, 2009) it became harder and harder to think all that awareness and fundraising was really accomplishing anything. We seemed to be no closer to a cure in October, 2009 than we were in October, 1990. Although finding a cure always mattered to me, it mattered a whole lot more after I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. That may sound selfish, but in those first nineteen years, I became complacent because I honestly thought a cure was close at hand. How could all those pinktobers not raise the money needed to fund the research needed to find the cure? I was sure it was only a matter of time when all things pink and Breast Cancer Awareness Month would be something we could tell our grandchildren about because there was no longer a disease called breast cancer. Unfortunately for the approximately 40,000 women and men who succumb to breast cancer in the United States each year, there was no cure for them – no way out and no choice but to fight the good fight. Some never met their grandchildren and way too many didn’t survive long enough to see their own children graduate from high school. For me, the saddest losses are those whose children are in grade school. Believe me, I know how blessed I am. I’ve lived long enough to watch my child grow up, graduate from high school and college; watch as she fell in love and married her soulmate and now, live in the joy of having a grandchild.
Since I am no different than most people when it comes to wanting as much out of life as I can get, I look at the past 26 years (especially the last 6) as a gift I could never repay. Once I was diagnosed with breast cancer, my life changed, My life goals and wants changed. I didn’t let the cloud of breast cancer change the woman I was, but it definitely affected (not defined) the woman I am now. I live from blessing to blessing and the past year has brought the best gift of all into my life – my little Irish bambino – Brandon, Jr. He looks absolutely nothing like his Italian and Lebanese relatives on his mom’s side, but when I look into his big blue eyes (those he did get from my ex-husband) I see the child who will always be a part of me and will be the best part of me that lives on, long after I’m gone. I believe we live on in those we leave behind, but there is something about a grandchild that reinforces that for me. I believe in the circle of life and that we never really leave those who loved and knew us because we are a part of them, forever.
Most celebrations last a day or week. We see family, sing “Happy Birthday,” adhere to our religious or personal rituals, then move on to our day-to-day lives until the next celebration or holiday. I was only a matter of time until the power of October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month was diminished by overload – burnt out because here we are again with no cure and people still dying. I might be looking in the wrong places, but I see much less pink this year than in year’s past. In reality, breast cancer exists every day of every month.
In all those pinktobers, I never thought my life would be changed by one little man, born on a day that changed the meaning of a month for me and gave me a new reason to love October again. As I celebrate my little man’s first birthday. I can now see this month for what it is for me. I believe there are no coincidences in life. Brandon’s birthday is October 27th and I will be with him, other family and friends as we celebrate and watch him do the official first birthday “cake-smash.” There is one thing of which I am certain, however – there will be no pink balloons, pink cake, and his nonni (me) won’t be wearing a pink ribbon. For me, October has finally become something more than a constant reminder that in spite of all the “feel good” pinktober vibes, breast cancer is still real and can be deadly. It took a 10 lb. 4 oz. newborn to make me realize there is so much more to live for than waiting for the cure that may not come in time.
Enjoy every second of the life you live and may the circle be unbroken!
Don’t Stop Believing!
May you realize that even in your darkest moments, something wonderful and amazing can happen that will change your life and remind you to never stop living for those rays of light that will take away the dark.