I'M NOT SPECIAL. I have breast cancer.
When I first got the news of my diagnosis, I was dumbstruck. I walked around with some of my clothes on inside-out for a few days. Telling my husband and my children and the village of people that I love and who love me, that was hard. Recovering from surgery will be nothing compared to saying the words, I have breast cancer, for the first few times. My husband, like me, was a bit knocked over. He swallowed hard and went out to walk the dog. His coat unlike mine was in fact on inside-right, but he needed a minute to clear his head. When he walked back in the door, he hugged me hard and said; we'll do this together, it's going to be ok.
I am not special. But, I am so very lucky. It was caught early. I have Stage 1, invasive lobular cancer (ER+, HER2+). With treatment I have a 95% cure rate. It was caught on a regularly scheduled mammogram*. It is so small that no one can feel it - even when guided by an ultrasound and the doctor trying to find it with her/his hands being an expert in feeling tumors.
I have received an embarrassment of support from family and friends, co-workers, and former co-workers. I’m lucky to be in Boston, the center of world renowned doctors and connections to specialists, who are only a few degrees of separation thanks to my network (aka choir) of incredible people.
My girlfriends are visiting, walking with me, texting, sending food, chocolates, flowers, prayer beads. A few dressed up in costume and surprised me with wine and cheer. I've received books on Big Friendship, a Tribe necklace, the world's softest pj's, cups and cups of tea like the one pictured here
and several gifts that appeal to my potty mouth - one handcream says "I'm a delicate fucking flower." The choir that surrounds me, they know me and my potty mouth well.
On top of that, there are five people doing long-distance Reiki on me. One of them whom I have never met is so connected to who I am that I feel like I've known her forever....#IYKYK.
The people at my office have been incredible. They are most concerned that I won't shut off my computer, they know that I have serious FOMO about being out. I love what I do and the people that I do it with and, I am trying desperately to channel some JOMO (joy of missing out).
More than 300,000 women are diagnosed with breast cancer each year. In my family alone, there are eight of us - five on my "side" of the family, three on my husband's. I am now a member of this incredible club of badasses and I have an army of people behind, in front of and around me.
As I’ve been soaking up all the love and feeling grateful for resources, I’ve thought about others who aren’t as lucky as I am and I need to share what I have learned:
“Black women are more likely than other racial/ethnic groups to be diagnosed at later stages and have the lowest survival at each state of diagnosis. They are also more likely to be diagnosed with triple negative breast cancer, an aggressive subtype that is linked to poorer survival,” that's from an article on The Undefeated.
The Black Women's Health Imperative was founded in 1983 as the first nonprofit organization created by Black women to help protect and advance the health and wellness of Black women and girls. Through programs, policy and advocacy, and research translation, this organization seeks to help black women live longer, healthier lives. Each donation will go toward services, resources and research to make this goal a reality. Linda Goler Blount, president and CEO of Black Women’s Health Imperative, stressed that Black women die from breast cancer at a 42% higher rate than white women. A key reason for the discrepancy is because Black women often get cancer five to seven years younger than white women, and so it is detected at a later stage. Black women are also less likely to have access to the latest technologies for treatment. Such barriers to care are particularly hard to hear when there’s a 100% survival rate when the cancer is caught and treated early, she said.
The "WHY?" behind that 42% gap is complicated and I am not a doctor or a researcher. What I've learned is that there are several factors contributing to the gap - Black women have disproportionately less access to available health care, early interventions, and adequate insurance to cover regular testing. And, I've also learned that there are great organizations like the Black Women's Health Imperative who are working to close that gap.
My surgery is this week. My treatment will start in December. I feel surrounded by love and care and incredible humans. And, while I have loved being on the receiving end of so much generosity, I don't really need anyone to do anything more for me, but there are many women who need our help to close health disparity gap that exists between Black and White women.
I love all of the texts, the visits, the good energy sent into the universe and all of your love. Keep those coming!
When you tell people that you have breast cancer, the first thing everyone asks is - What can I do? How can I help? And, the best thing about it is that everyone really wants to help, they really want to do something.
What I would love for people to do the most is to consider a donation to the Black Women's Health Imperative.
Huge wave of gratitude to all of you. 💜 *Get your mammograms friends!