Ten years ago this October, I sat in meditation after a yoga class, as I did most days, tears wet my cheeks… as they often did during this time; but this was not just any yoga class. I remember this class, in particular, because I was there outside my regular routine, I was there because I was lost and running. I had just left the university hospital. I had taken my mother in for emergency surgery; it was not her first. She had breast cancer and it had metastasized to her bones. Earlier that day she had broken her arm opening a jar of salsa. The stress of this simple task had caused a fracture that required immediate stabilization. She and I would joke that she was becoming a the “bionic” woman with all the metal parts holding her together. We would joke and we would laugh, but it wasn’t funny, none of it was funny. When I would stop for a moment, the tears would come; they came in my meditations. That night after leaving her with the surgeons, I was nauseous, I think somehow, I knew that there was not much time left. If you have been a care giver you might be familiar with the sickening, helpless feeling of watching your loved one suffer and slip away. I couldn’t go home, I couldn’t stay, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t talk… I went to yoga.
This is a different kind of blog and one that is hard for me to write as I reflect on this time in my life 10 years ago. The distance time has created between now and then has eased, but not erased my grief. I am ready to share my story. The truth is that I have been running from this for a long time.
October is breast cancer awareness month.
Unfortunately, I think that all of us are all to “aware” of breast cancer. We don’t have to look far to find someone who has been touched by this disease; maybe that person is you. Breast cancer is the second leading cancer diagnosis among Canadian women (behind only non-melanoma skin cancers) (Lee, n.d.). It is estimated that 1 in 8 women will have breast cancer in their life time and that 1 in 34 will die of the disease (Lee, n.d.). I would like to challenge you to look at October a little differently this year. I would like for you to start to consider your own breast cancer awareness.
I go about my day to day and check the boxes of all of the things I do to help prevent reliving my mother’s fate. I don’t talk about it, I don’t think about it, I just do it. Does this guarantee that I will not get breast cancer, no! Does it give me peace of mind knowing that I am doing what I can, yes! It has taken me a full decade to come to this point, to realize that I need to share to encourage all women to look closely at their own risk. I chose to be a doctor because I wanted to help others. Keeping this part of my story bottled up does not serve me, it amputates my ability as healer, and does not honour my mother and all of the other women who have struggled with this disease.
Asking the important questions is not easy.
We all have our reasons for not taking the time to truly dive into our risk. Maybe you are too afraid of what you might find out. Maybe you are afraid of the commitment you will feel you need to make to yourself on the other side. Maybe you are afraid of how this knowledge might change your family dynamics. Maybe you feel you don’t have the time. Maybe you feel that you don’t know how or what to ask your health care provider. Maybe, like me, your story of how breast cancer touched you is still too raw. Whatever your reason, or reasons, I understand; the fear and emotions are real.
Support and knowledge are the answers.
This October I implore you to ask the questions. Do you know your risk? Do you really understand what this means? Are you doing what you can to avoid a breast cancer diagnosis? I believe that understanding is power, and everyone deserves the opportunity to face their risk with a fully stalked arsenal of prevention strategy. Please reach out to your care provider for more information about your individual risk. If this is not a subject they are well versed in, ask for a referral.
You owe it to yourself.
Lee, S. (n.d.). Breast cancer statistics. Canadian Cancer Society. Retrieved August 28, 2022, from https://cancer.ca/en/cancer-information/cancer-types/breast/statistics