Mr. Wonderful was preparing for his mission trip to South Sudan, working one more day before leaving with our pastor and friend Sam to fly to Africa. They were visiting a school for village children, a school struggling for funding, straining to keep students in the cultural tug of war between education and custom. He was open for his purpose in going, the reason he had this opportunity to form relationships with people across the world who needed, in addition to money and infrastructure and peace, an extra dose of encouragement. I’d helped him make lists: buy a hat to protect his easily sizzling Scotch-Irish skin in the African sun, get immunizations to protect from malaria-spreading mosquitos, pack, pack, and pack for his departure the next day.
In the meantime, I was carrying on with normal–going to work, making my grocery list, having my yearly mammogram. I had a wonderful day at work with my co-workers and quirky high school students. On my grocery list I put the usual eggs and milk, potatoes and chicken, along with a bit of ice cream to celebrate having my breasts in a vice! It’s a good thing I bought the ice cream…
My mammogram wasn’t normal. And though it would be two days before I received the official report, the doctor said from the films, then the ultrasound, then as he performed a biospy that very afternoon…he said he was sure the lump was cancer, and yes, I should tell my husband before he leaves the country.
With a big bandage on my boob and fears picking at my brain, I stopped at (my beloved) Wegmans on the way home–after all, I had a grocery list. The sweet girl at the check out asked the perfunctory, “How are you today?” I started to answer as usual, to say I was fine. Instead, I blurted, “I just found out I have cancer.” The next day at work, when my sweet friend Donna greeted me with her usual “Good morning, Sunshine,” I joked with her, dancing through her computer lab as I spilled my news. I can keep other peoples’ secrets to my death, but not my own.
I couldn’t keep the fact that I had breast cancer a secret. Not only did I have cancer, but it was diagnosed in Breast Cancer Awareness month! I really thought I deserved a special award of some kind…so we cried with our family, made light with our family, I milked it with my children to be funny. Treating this THING as something humorous was the only way I could feel I had power over it. And Mark went to South Sudan–it was a wonderful trip for him, and a wonderful distraction for me to wait for pictures and stories of his encounters and experiences. While he was gone, I was at peace, and I can’t exactly explain that, but it’s true. Maybe it was the loving attention from my friends–the pink boxing gloves, the books, the scarves, the notes and cards and phone calls.
That was six years ago. Today, I’m healthy and happy (and I still think I’m funny), and I believe I’ve been equipped to be an encourager to others in the same situation. And now it’s October again–Breast Cancer Awareness Month, pink ribbons everywhere. Every October, I remember…I say “this is MY month, it’s all about me!” While it is important for me to rehearse the faithfulness of God in this chapter in my life, this month isn’t about me; it’s about people everywhere–women and men–and the need for early detection through mammograms. It’s about my very dear grandmother, who died at the age of 86, 16 years after being diagnosed and having a mastectomy. It’s about my very dear mother, who was diagnosed at the age of 70 and won that battle after a lumpectomy and radiation. My dear cousin, Suzanne, was diagnosed in her 40’s struck back with surgery and chemo and is now healthy. So it’s about her, and my friends Vikki and Kerry, who had more surgery and treatment than I.
In Luxembourg this month, the Think Pink Ladies Night is Friday, October 20th (thinkpinklux.com). The American Women’s Club of Luxembourg is having a Think Pink Coffee Morning on Tuesday, October 10. The Think Pink staff will will be sharing information about women’s health and support services in Luxembourg. I’ll be thinking (in pink) about women who are battling, who are newly diagnosed, who are doing routine checks. And I’ll be praying for them…my bosom buddies…