It’s October 31. Today marks the end of Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I wrote in a post at the end of September about how historically, October has been a really shit month for me. My aim for this October was simple – give the middle finger to cancer and all the other shitty things that have happened to me in Octobers past.
I feel like I’ve succeeded. Sure, I’m typing this one-handed whilst touching wood with the other because October’s not officially over yet, but I do believe I’ve done it. During the 31 days of the month in previous years known as Shocktober, Poxtober and Sucktober, I focussed on doing things to turn October’s nasty little frown upside down.
The biggest thing I did was share the stories of ten amazing women who’ve given raw, emotional, funny and heart-felt accounts of their experiences with breast cancer. Thank you so very much to Alyson, Candy, Meg, Susie, Lise, Emily, Anna, Jenni, Bella and Eliza. It takes courage to put yourself out there, in words, in images, in art and on a bike, in numbers, in hope, in sadness, in hindsight and in science. Curating your stories has been extraordinarily humbling.
The most public thing I did was be the keynote speaker at the Colour of Change luncheon in Toowoomba. The luncheon is a major fundraiser for BreastScreen Queensland, and despite my epic meltdown the night before when reality set in about standing up and speaking in front of 200 people who’d paid good money to hear me be ‘inspirational’, it was a fantastic experience. I am pleased to say that the day raised more than $42,000 (!!), that I didn’t fall up or down the stairs, that I only swore in the retelling of a joke that got a lot of laughs, and that my friend Shauna, who paid $150 to listen to me tell stories that she could hear any time for free, won a raffle prize.
The most terrifying thing I did this month was have a mammogram and ultrasound. I must have these yearly now, and whilst I also see my oncologist every three months and go through a physical exam, the mammogram and ultrasound are enormously stressful. I have to go back to the place where I was diagnosed, and over a period of two hours, as I see various nurses and doctors and have a range of tests and do a lot of sitting and waiting in between, thoughts of 2012 run through my mind. On that day, I kind of felt like the lump might be cancer, but nahhhh, there’s no history of breast cancer in my family, so it can’t be, I’ll be fine, right? How naive and ignorant I was. 90-95% of breast cancers have nothing to do with genetics or family history, they are what’s called sporadic breast cancers, which occur for unknown reasons. There’s no comfort in that, which is why people like I was in 2012 like to think that not having a family history will make us immune.
Here’s a photo of me in the waiting room at the breast clinic this week. My face looks so drawn and sad. It is, after all, the mirror of the soul. It may also be a reflection of the fact that it was 39 degrees here on Wednesday, and I was given a lovely thick, fluffy dressing gown to wear while I was waiting. Thank god I’m no longer menopausal, or the heat combined with that fucking hideous green wall may have caused the Seether to come out for a visit.
You can probably tell by the upbeat tone of this post that the results of the mammogram and ultrasound were good – all clear, no sign of any recurrence. This is me after getting the news – the relief is visible. Oh my god, the relief.
Possibly the most significant thing I did this month was to start the third year of my remission from breast cancer. There was no parade or ceremony or ribbon-cutting. Instead, I went to work and did my best to contribute to making a difference in people’s lives. I cooked some lovely meals for family and friends. I did housework and washing and bought groceries (and whinged about all of it). I planned a holiday to Thailand, I went to the 40th birthday parties for two dear friends, saw a live comedy show, got a bit drunk and did karaoke, including a duet of Islands in the Stream with my husband. Sadly (or perhaps fortunately), our performance wasn’t caught on tape, so you’ll just have to make do with Kenny and Dolly.
Everything is nothing if you got no-one. Ain’t that the truth. I have so much love in my life, so many things to be thankful for, and lots to look forward to. Hey October, I beat you this time. And I’m determined to have a red hot go at kicking your arse again next year.