Cancer is a horrible disease. Even “easy” cancers like breast cancer are horrible. I know this because I’ve had it, most of my family died from it, and a lot of my friends either have or had it.
I’m yet to find anyone who says, “You know what? I’m glad I had / have breast cancer.” No-one in their right mind wakes up one day thinking gee, I must add this to my ‘interesting things to do’ list and anyone who suggests it’s a great way to get a free boob job and some chemotherapeutic help with weight loss is terribly ill-informed. Sadly there are a few women in the world who think this way but the reality is that neither perfect breasts nor a svelte figure are positive outcomes from cancer or its treatment. Instead there’s more than an outside chance you end up impoverished, tormented and/or dead. Not much to smile about if any of those scenarios come to pass.
In spite of the harsh realities there’s a great deal to be thankful for when it comes to the breast cancer community. This vast and growing group of people all over the world understands the true significance of nodes, treatment regimes, clinical trials, funding, recurrence, metastasis, emotions and death. Everyones’ story is different and every one is inspirational, a source of encouragement and mutual support. The club none of us wanted to join is populated by people who are smart, loyal, determined, compassionate and empathic. Women (and men) who were going about their everyday lives like the rest of the human race until cancer sent them veering off course into a world of uncertainty, confusion and more medical procedures than most lab rats endure.
Being part of this community brings a sense of togetherness and understanding but it also calls for incredible levels of resilience. People we come to know as our friends often have stories that are far from rosy pink and perfect. Too many of our number have metastatic cancer for which there is no cure. While most humans deal with bereavement just a few times throughout their lives, members of the breast cancer community may find themselves bereaved on a regular basis. Joining this club means facing the fact that some of our friends will die before their time and there’s nothing any of us can do about it. It’s another of breast cancer’s ironies – friendships forged through one of life’s greatest adversaries have the potential to be life long yet the reality is they’re sometimes over in a matter of months.
Cancer is a horrible disease because it regularly steals away beautiful people, people who have so much to live for, who give so much, love so much and deserve to join the ranks of the old, grey and wrinkly just like so many other people do. Once upon a time I encountered death every 5 or 10 years. Now I encounter it every 5 or 6 months, so often that it’s become as familiar to me as the moon and stars. Familiarity doesn’t make it any easier to accept though; regular exposure doesn’t lead to systematic desensitisation.
Every time another friend dies of breast cancer another star disappears from my sky, the night gets a little darker and a little of that darkness lingers in my heart. In English when we talk about losing someone we say “I miss you.” Our French cousins have a different structure to their language and in French we’d say “Tu me manques.” This phrase seems to capture the overwhelming thoughts and feelings that come when the stars go out, when lovely people are taken from this life. Tu me manques translates as “You are missed by me” . . . To my friends and family who’ve died of breast cancer, you are and always will be missed by me.