16th Annual Celebrate Life Survivor Breakfast

Survivors B-fast, 9-12-09 002
Over 600 Breast Cancer “Survivors”

Well, on Saturday I went to my first “survivor breakfast” even though I don’t really consider myself to be a survivor quite yet.  I think I’ll maybe feel like a survivor after my five years of Tamoxifen or Arimidex, whichever Dr. Schott decides to give me.  I don’t know what kind of  “name” I consider myself to be.  I don’t really feel like I have been a “fighter” as that seems to imply a much more dire case of cancer than I think I had.  And I don’t care for the “warrior” term either.  Another twist on the survivor theme I have heard is “cancer thriver” and while I like it better, I don’t exactly feel like I am thriving quite yet. 

I feel like I have “worked on” cancer….in fact, the research I had hoped to be doing this summer on my first year of graduate studies was replaced with all the work I have done to learn about cancer from traditional research, anecdotal information, MD interviews, and first hand experience.   I  have really worked on understanding what the heck was/is going on,  and who best can help me take care of this crappy bunch of cells that began dividing wildly.  I have really worked on building up my body through exercise, more diligently than I ever exercised when I was well!  I have worked on fitting time into my calendar and building a space within my consciousness for complimentary therapies.  In addition, I have really worked on extending the therapies, the meditations and “centering” and breathing and integrating new thought patterns that my friends at The Victory Center have helped me with.  So what moniker does that give me….a cancer worker?  cancer studier?  cancer student?  I dunno….I’ll work on that too.

So anyway, the Survivor Breakfast was a great thing…635 mostly women all with something in common.  I am so glad my Chinese sisters, Linda and Helen, convinced me to come to this, but this is something you could easily do, even if you didn’t know someone there.  When you have something as significant as BC in common with another person, you do know something about them.  Doesn’t matter so much your socioeconomic status, race, religion or political leanings.  The common thread we share shreds all of our differences.  Sometimes you don’t even have to say anything.  I don’t know why(maybe my lack of hair marking me as “the chemo kid”) but an older African American woman tapped me on the shoulder before breakfast and said, “I don’t know why, but I just want to give you a hug.”  And it was a good long, honest and sincere hug, too.  There you go–another good thing about “looking like you have cancer”…. you get more hugs (and God knows I need them.)

You also get a sense of perspective.  Remember your parents used to say, “Be grateful for what you have, there are…”  and then ended with their favorite example of dire circumstances? My generation got the “starving children in China” version.  Well, this was a good place for perspective.  I heard not one, but two stories of women who diagnosed with BC when they were pregnant, one woman at my table was pregnant with twins, and had four children already.  Oh my lord…….you can’t help but think if she could get through that and look so good now,  then I surely can get through my exciting turn at the radiation table.  Yea, a month or so of radiation, no big deal, I can do that.

This is also a great place to make connections and compare notes with other women who have had walked a mile in your slippers.  At my table, we were like a bunch of rabid information exchangers.  After breakfast and before the program I was scooting around to the other side of the table to ask new friend Claudia about her experiences with Dr. Rubin, my new BFFDV (Best Friend Forever, Doctor Version).   We all had discussions about getting your nipples tattooed on (areola’s , actually), and Doctors who don’t “listen”.  I heard stories about recurrences, a too common experience many women face.  But mostly, we smiled and laughed and as corny as it sounds, shared a sense of hope.  Hope that we are “well” now…..

Other tidbits from the Survivor Breakfast:

  • The Promise Quilters raised $28,600 last year with their quilt, and to date, the total raised has been over $240,000. by selling one raffle ticket at a time!  Sewing and quilting is a POWERFUL medium!
  • All 88 counties in Ohio are “pinked up”  meaning they are all Komen affiliates, and will received benefits from the Komen foundation. 
  • Really fabulous cupcakes with pink frosting made by (and donated by) my school, Penta Career Center.  Good community service project, Chef!
  • Komen Foundation website, full of information:  http://www.komennwohio.org/index.html  you can see the quilt there, and find out anything about the local events.
  • Comment from a BC Survivor panel member with a strong genetic link of BC in her family, “In the process of doing everything to prevent this from happening to me, it was already happening to me”  I could relate to this completely.   Just because you are fit and healthy, doesn’t mean much when it comes to whether or not you will find yourself being that ONE in eight women who gets BC.
  • If you are going to have the BRCA genetic test done, buy life insurance for your kids first.  If you test positive for BRCA1 or BRCA2, it will likely be unavailable or at the very least, be cost prohibitive.  In addition, I heard comments about having the BRCA testing done but not billed to your insurance company, and not in your name…this way you can’t be discriminated against for insurance coverage if you test positive for the gene.  While this sounds fraudulent to me, and I wouldn’t personally do that…you do have to wonder…why in the world are people defending our current health care system when women actually have to try to sneak around to get genetic testing to save their lives and their kids lives if our current system is so damn fantastic??? 
  • “Take charge of your health care, if you are told something by your medical team and it doesn’t seem right, keep asking questions or go someplace else.  It is your life!”

And the funniest comment I overheard at the Breast Cancer Survivors Breakfast:

  • This room must have the most perky boobs its ever seen!
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