National Breast Cancer Awareness Month: The Community Cure
In my January blog post, I mentioned that watching numerous loved ones suffer through this devastating disease inspired us to join two of our favorite things: supporting a cause we believe in and growlers that remind us why and for whom we do.
One of those remarkable ladies includes my friend, Jenny Bates, a talented writer and all-around wonderful person, who recently joined the PGC team as a copywriter and blogger.
Jenny graciously accepted my invitation to share her experience in honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month. What follows below is Jenny's account of how she discovered joy and experienced community in the midst of her "cancer disaster".
The Community Cure
A couple weeks back, a certain social media platform pointed out that One Year Ago Today! I completed radiation.
I sat in my oncologist’s reception area cruising my phone, waiting to have my blood drawn, then meet with the good doctor. Waiting to detail all the ways my cancer suffering lingered. Hoping said blood would have nothing terrifying to say.
I stared at the image of a dazzling hot pink certificate of completion accompanying the post, praising my “courage, determination, and good nature.” I had splashed it online because I wanted my people to know. I couldn’t call it done without them.
Way back in November 2014, I reacted to my diagnosis in true Jerry-Maguire-ish form: I flipped out and announced, “I have breast cancer! Who’s coming with me?!”
I’ll admit I was hazy on the decorum expected of one bequeathed a cancer announcement at 4:30 on a Friday afternoon. My people had to know, but each Declaration of Cancer felt like a stab to my knot-gorged gut. Big-picture panic: Was this my final chapter, The End? Slightly less-big-picture anxiety: Would anyone come with me and my uninvited chest-guest to find out?
Indeed, they would, almost without fail, and with them the questions, “What can I do? What do you need? How can I help?”
Overwhelming kindness and compassion filled every conversation like a tap left running, the pint glass of my life overflowing with the enormity of it all. Sometimes I managed to catch a taste pour of an answer: macaroni and cheese, a financial weight lift, a hug. But most of the time, short of rewriting my bitter personal-health recipe, I had no idea.
But my people did. They bound together to hold me: I never spent a chemo treatment alone; meals arrived several times a week; gifts began to pour in, symbols of my fight for survival.
Some of Portland’s most exceptional artists and craftspeople, my partner, friends, friends of friends, organized an art fundraiser that packed Basic Space gallery for hours and allowed me to work less while I healed from my treatments. Gratitude felt like a thimble of a word, fortunate as well, both too small to carry what flooded me.
Sitting in my oncologist’s office that day, my hand hovered, ready to click, as the perky and mindful social network suggested that I again share my “good nature.” I wanted to re-post it, to remind myself and my people that I had survived radiation. It seemed important, the thing to do. Instead, I closed my browser and shut off my phone.
As I glanced around the too-full waiting room, each patient, caregiver, and loved one struggling through their own version of the breast cancer fiasco, I knew that if I unearthed that moment, if I said something True about it, I would have to fess up: that nearly two years after my diagnosis, after my major treatments became the things of social media memories, after my hair grew back and rosy cheeks returned, even as I write this, I still long to say, “Who’s coming with me?”
And worst of all, I would have to accept the physical, cognitive, and emotional limitations that haunt my daily life, that I haven’t reached the end. I couldn’t bear admitting that to myself, much less those who had done so much for me. So I didn’t.
But I also knew that from Diagnosis Day I’d promised myself I wouldn’t mask my cancer disaster, that I would speak and speak truth about my experience. Because from that worst day grew some of the greatest joy I’ve ever experienced: the joy of watching a community come together for something that mattered to them collectively, all else aside. And driving home from my appointment, I couldn’t deny that a community built on love and support crumbles when one of its members hides.
So, this is me un-breaking that promise. This is me inviting you to join my people, and if you have a breast cancer community of your own, to acknowledge the joy, as well as the pain, that comes with becoming a card-holding member.
This is me telling you that no act of support goes unnoticed, from a thinking-of-you text to a donation that helps fund research to find a cure. That not knowing what to do is OK, that doing nothing is not, and that what we do can change a life.
In honor of National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, PGC and several partners have organized a few ways you can help us raise funds for NBCF. Learn more.