Peace Out, Pinktober

Looking the part but not feeling it.

It’s the last day of Breast Cancer Awareness Month and this year, I wasn’t feeling it. Not one bit.


Last year I’d just​ finished treatment for my own breast cancer and was high on life, leaning into the Pink Ribbon. 


I wore pink, bought t-shirts/sweatshirts/mugs/hats, posted about breast cancer, and generally was obnoxious.


My behavior in October 2021 was a 180 degree spin.


It was hard to put a finger on why Pinktober was so grating this year. 


There were several good campaigns against Pinkwashing (e.g. slapping a pink sticker on a banana “in support of breast cancer awareness” – and really, in 2021, who ISN’T aware of breast cancer; Pinkwashing is essentially using a disease as a marketing ploy), but my personal ire wasn’t necessarily related to that.


It was related to me.


Here’s what I realized today, October 31st, at the last possible minute: I am not over breast cancer. Not one bit.


By objective measures, my last step of active treatment was August 2020, when I had my reconstruction surgery. That’s 14 months ago.


While I didn’t have a specific plan for what survivorship would look like, I (consciously, subconsciously) presumed that I would bounce back to my old self, except now with a SURVIVOR sticker slapped on my list of life accomplishments. 


SURVIVOR Me was supposed to be All The Things: Fit, Healthy, Authentic, Wise, Kind, Generous and an All Around Inspiring Boss Lady Doctor with a sassy short ‘do (thanks, chemo).


Actual Me is not.


While I am some of the things, I can’t seem to get where I want to be.


I am in a professional coaching program for female physicians and recently, my favorite coach asked me if I’d ever experienced any trauma.


My immediate answer was “No,” because up to now I’ve never been, say, kidnapped or in an airplane crash (fingers crossed it stays that way). As an afterthought, I casually mentioned that, oh, there was this one thing, I’d gone through cancer treatment in the middle of the peak COVID pandemic last year. There was a pause, and she said, “That’s absolutely trauma. You need to reckon with it.”


As I type, this probably seems obvious, but it was the first piece of evidence I had that my survivorship mode might not be on track the way I wanted it to be.


The second bits of evidence were two-fold: I had to leave my bubble twice and merge into Real Life. 


In September and October, I went to two professional work conferences, the first ones in over two years. They were full of milestones: first flights since COVID, first public speaking gigs, and – the thing I was most scared for – the first time seeing colleagues since my diagnosis.


To be unflattering and blunt, I have many moments of vanity and have carefully, professionally curated how I present myself in front of others. 


2021 Me was ticking almost zero of those boxes. 


My fears: people would not recognize me (this came true a few times), people would think I look old, people would think I look like sh*t, people would pity me, people would look at me differently than I want to be perceived.


Of course none of this came to fruition. Deep down, I know that the person who cares the most about my drama is me, and no one else was probably giving a passing thought to any of the other things because they’re mired in their own muck. 


The third moment of clarity came last week, when I was invited to present a talk on breast cancer survivorship to other patients. Friends, you know I love public speaking, and this was my moment to shine. An audience and opportunity to talk about myself? Count me IN.


I put together a talk that I thought was honest, authentic, vulnerable and with some good advice. I was excited to give it. And then, despite having given hundreds of talks – sometimes in front of big audiences – I found my voice wavering multiple times as I told my story.


I realized I am not over breast cancer. Not one bit.


But.


I want that to change. 


This is the start. And I hope that Pinktober 2022 finds SURVIVOR Me in a new place.

This Is A Love Story

I know this picture is terrible. It’s hard to capture the back of your head.

This is a love story.

I am married to someone I’ve known since I was an awkward freshman in high school.

We bonded over sitting in the same row in Sister Geneva’s English class and our mutual affection for Chuck Taylor high tops.

I’m obliged to tell you at this point that we did not date until after college, although once in our senior collegiate year I asked if he’d ever thought about dating me.

He said no.

In retrospect, I don’t think that was true, but at some point he clearly changed his mind.

Love isn’t flashy all the time.

There are many ordinary moments I have forgotten over the past 22+ years. That makes me sad.

Our story includes moving five times for my work and many years of waiting to get to the next step, whether it was residency, fellowship, my first “real job” as an attending or some other nebulous goal that was just ever-so-slightly beyond the horizon.

Cancer was a new reckoning.

We’d been through so much already.

But love showed up – mightily- when I asked My Ever Patient Spouse to shave my head one step ahead of the chemo this past spring.

He did.

Months and months later, my hair started to grow back.

Regretfully, no one informed me that I was developing a mullet and it wasn’t until I looked at the back of my head for the first time that I realized I needed a barber NOW.

Once again, I enlisted him into action.

He gently buzzed my head again, but this time, not to scalp. It was just to neaten the edges. I think he did a pretty good job, even if the above photo doesn’t do it justice.

My friends, that is love.

Thoughts on #Pinktober

Well, well, with the turn of the calendar we’ve arrived at Breast Cancer Awareness month, complete with its cringe-y moniker #Pinktober.

Pinktober is highly controversial among breast cancer survivors.

Years of pinkwashing, exposes of “charitable” organizations that weren’t so charitable after all, and controversial political decisions by major players in the breast cancer sphere have soured many to the pink ribbon.

And let’s face it: seeing NFL players in pink jerseys may be a cute tribute, but I didn’t care about that when I was sitting in a chair with chemotherapy dripping into my veins.

More needs to be done.

For me, this is my first rodeo as a breast cancer survivor and I’m conflicted.

There’s the frustrated advocate in me who eschews the hype and demands action, and there is also the grateful human who has straddled the thin line between sickness and health – and she wants to celebrate.

So I’m leaning in to the pink. Hard. I choose gratitude and joy.

And I will proudly wear pink every day in October. I’m lucky that I get to.