It’s been eleven years since my mother died from metastatic breast cancer on March 6, 2008. That’s 4,015 days. 572 weeks. 132 months. Not a day goes by that I do not think about her. Not a day goes by that I do not miss her. Not a day goes by that I do not wish I could speak with her once more.
I remember the countless good times, but I never forget the way my mother’s life ended either and the pain this horrible disease brought to my family and continues to bring to other families like mine.
I mark time every year here on the blog because how could I not?
As many of you know, my cancer story began with my mother’s cancer diagnosis in 2004, on my birthday no less.
Despite the fact that my mother was diagnosed with an early-stage, low-grade, hormone-positive breast cancer (supposedly, the good kind), it went on to metastasize in 2007. Roughly six months later, she was dead. Not gone. Not lost. Dead.
(Yes, I choose to use the “d” word(s), even if doing so makes others uncomfortable.)
Early detection, a lumpectomy and radiation were supposed to be enough. They were not.
My mother’s experience is part of what drives me still to keep writing this blog and to keep advocating for those I know/knew and those I do not who are/were impacted by a disease, regardless of stage, that is anything but pink, pretty or party-like.
Occasionally, someone implies, or even tells me directly, I should perhaps speak less about the dark sides of breast cancer, of which there are many, including metastatic disease. Doing that might make my writing less scary, more uplifting, more something.
I say, that would make it incomplete.
If I chose not to speak of mbc, I would feel like a traitor not only to my mother but to everyone else impacted by metastatic breast cancer as well – those I know/knew and those I will never know.
I will always share unvarnished truths about cancer (again, regardless of stage) and loss, well, my truths anyway. And believe it or not, I have only scratched the surface.
As I’ve said many times, I will never sugarcoat this disease.
Headlines sometimes seem to suggest we should be celebrating. We’ve come a long way, and in some ways, we have. However, headlines can be, and often are, deceiving.
Dr. Attai, co-founder of BCSM, pulls us back to reality regarding stats and headlines in her recent post titled, Improvement in Breast Cancer Death Rates – But Much Work Remains. With her usual clarity and balance, she reminds us:
Treatments have improved, and screening mammography has made a difference. But as the US population is growing and aging (and the likelihood of breast cancer increases with age) there may be more individuals with breast cancer. Cancer incidence also increases with increased use of screening mammography (due to increased detection), but not all of these cancers are lethal. Rates of death from breast cancer decrease, but absolute numbers may not.
I bring up these last points not to put a damper on some of the glowing headlines regarding this study, but to ensure that we don’t lose focus regarding the work to be done. Approximately 40,000 women and 2,500 men will die this year due to metastatic breast cancer. We’ve made tremendous progress, but it’s not time to celebrate just yet.
Stats are deceiving sometimes. But some offer a pretty clear picture. Such as this one:
Since my mother’s death from mbc in 2008, roughly 440,000 others have since died from metastatic breast cancer. Another 440,000 families have felt the same heartache as mine. And this is just in the US.
Every year as I mark time here on the blog, I mention the numbers to make a point, but of course, it’s not just about numbers.
It’s about faces – the dear ones behind the numbers and the families left to pick up the pieces.
Real faces. Real people. Real families grieving.
I mark time to remember, yes.
But I also mark time to remind those who will listen that much work is left to be done.
Those who are willing and those who are able must do it.
When I think about my mother these days, sometimes I’m sad. Sometimes I’m mad. Sometimes I’m scared. Sometimes I’m lonely. Sometimes I’m determined. Sometimes I’m frustrated. Sometimes I am all of these things.
But always, I’m grateful. There are so many good things and good times to remember. Many are not as lucky as me in this regard.
So, after eleven years, I mark time. Again.
I miss you, Mother.
Love you forever.
And I promise…
Who do you mark time for?
Has it ever been suggested that perhaps you should speak less about the dark sides of breast cancer?