You would have to be living under a rock deep in a Guatemalan cave to not already know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Fundraisers and events promoting the importance of mammograms are happening all across the country. Even professional football players and other athletes are wearing pink as part of their uniforms.
It is amazing that doctors’ report 1 in every 8 women in the U.S. will develop invasive breast cancer during the course of her lifetime. In 2011, more than 230,000 new cases of invasive breast cancer were diagnosed along with almost 58,000 new cases that were non-invasive. Even though the survival rates have improved in recent years, nearly 40,000 wives, Mothers, sisters and daughters will die this year from this merciless assassin.
As any movement grows and becomes part of the culture it is natural for it to begin to be viewed in the abstract. That being said, we all know a friend or loved one who has fallen victim to breast cancer. However, while pink ribbons and athletic shoes may cause us to think of breast cancer, it does not always remind us why this fight is so important, as breast cancer not only effects the lives of the woman tragically inflicted, it changes everything for her children, husband, siblings, parents and friends.
When I was much younger, a beautiful young woman in her late 20’s was working as a bartender at a hotel night club I was managing. She was raising her young son alone and working two jobs to insure he had all he needed. Pauline was one of my best staff and we were all heartbroken the day she tearfully told us that she had been diagnosed with breast cancer that morning.
Both her breasts were removed within a week and she then endured months of treatment that she believed would kill her long before the cancer. But finally she was told she would be fine and the healing process would then begin.
The next year, I was managing a famous Nashville night club when one afternoon Pauline excitedly bounced into my office and gave me a big hug. After more than a year of torture and emotional pain, she had just healed from receiving her new breasts and had to show them to everybody she knew. So excited, as she said “to be whole again,” she pulled up her shirt in the middle of my office to show me what a great job the plastic surgeon had done for her. Stuttering and blushing, I confirmed that he did a real good job and with a kiss on the cheek, she left me to my work and to complete her rounds.
About four months later, one of my staff who knew Pauline approached me in the kitchen one evening to inform me that our friend’s cancer had recently returned and she was not expected to survive the next week. In fact, Pauline died the next day before I even had a chance to say goodbye.
I was told her son, maybe 6 or 7 at the time refused to leave her side when she passed. You see, Pauline was not only his Mother, but his best friend as well.
Breast Cancer Awareness month is a positive way to encourage women to remember to see their doctor regularly and be screened often. By finding breast cancer early, the chances of survival are much greater than if it is found too late. This we all know. But the fight must continue all year, as we know only a few weeks can be the difference in life or death.
If you have ever witnessed a young child try to say goodbye to his beloved Mother for the very last time, you understand that simply being aware breast cancer exists is not enough. We must also do what we can as a society to defeat it.
Pauline left us over 25 years ago. Her son now should be in his early 30’s. Looking back, I pray that her loss did not turn him into an angry young man, but inspire him to live his life in ways that would honor her beautiful memory. For in the end, this is really what we are fighting for.
Henry Piarrot is a Sevier County resident and hotel manager on assignment in Hattiesburg, MS. Please send all story recommendations to firstname.lastname@example.org