At 7:00 pm on August 29, 1996, I was at a Mexican restaurant in Tucson, Arizona. I remember the relentless desert light forcing its way through the windows as the sun began to set, the line of rustic wooden chairs around the long table, the chunky glass stemware. I unconsciously absorbed every detail around me before I got up to use the payphone and call home. I don’t remember exactly what my mom said when she picked up on the other end, but I can’t ever forget the message: her biopsy results showed that the lump in her breast was cancer.
The moment I received that news was a turning point. On top of the fear and uncertainty about what would happen to my mother, in the back of my mind was the knowledge that my own chance of developing breast cancer had doubled. In an instant, I slid right from “no risk” to “high risk.”
Not that there was much time to think about all that. Within the next two weeks, my mother was scheduled for surgery – a full mastectomy and trans-flap reconstruction. “Invasive” doesn’t even begin to describe the extent of that operation. After a week in hospital, under a heavy gel-filled heat blanket to fight infection, she went home still connected to drainage tubes, her entire torso swollen and stitched. I had never seen her, or anyone, in so much pain.
She was strong and feisty and determined to get through it, but she was, of course, terrified. We all were. But testing of her lymph nodes showed that the cancer hadn’t spread, and although we all had our nightmare scenarios, there was no reason to think that she wouldn’t make a full recovery. That October, she began chemotherapy, which left her sick and exhausted, and then began taking the drug Tamoxifen, which at the time was just beginning to be used to treat early-stage breast cancer and has since been approved as preventative treatment for women in high-risk categories.
As the diagnosis moved further behind her, and every subsequent doctor’s appointment showed that she was still cancer-free, the terror subsided somewhat, softening into mild dread with occasional mammogram-related moments of panic. After five years, she was considered in remission, and after ten, could officially call herself a survivor. She will remain vigilant, but there’s every reason to hope that her battle is over.
As I approach 35*, however, I feel that mine is just beginning. I was initially told to have my first mammogram at that age, although the recommendation for first-generationers has since gone up to 40. With my own troubled hormone history, I’m not sure I’ll hold out that long.
And then there’s my daughter. Her paternal grandmother is a breast cancer survivor as well, so her genetic odds are even worse than my own. The idea that she may someday have to go through what my mother endured is completely unacceptable to me.
With all this in mind, I resolved that I wouldn’t let this year’s Race for the Cure slip by me. I’ve participated with my mother in the Minneapolis event, and I know that it’s more than just a 5k. The community of survivors, their families, and all those racing in memoriam creates an overwhelming feeling of hope, strength, and support. And, it must be said, sorrow. The “In Memory Of” race placards are worn by men, women, and children of all ages; at my last race, I saw “In Memory of Mommy” tagged on a stroller. But that’s the point of the race as well. Those in grief find comfort, and others find inspiration and motivation to end the destruction caused by the disease.
Thinking on my own reasons for being in the Race, I began to feel that just showing up and ambling through five kilometers wouldn’t be enough. Although every donation matters, the registration fee felt like a drop in a bucket that I want to see filled, and quick. So I decided that I would not just do the Race for the Cure, I would run the Race for the Cure.
Yes, run. Yes, me.
I know what you’re thinking. You’re thinking, “I’d pay to see that!” And that’s the point. For the next six weeks, I’ll be collecting donations as I embark on a stepped-up version of the Couch-to-5k training program. As I’ve mentioned here before, I am not a runner, so setting this goal and making this effort will hopefully inspire some of you to make your own effort for this cause.
Feeling inspired already? Head over to my personal fundraising page to make a donation.
I’d also love for any and all of you to join me, either in the Memphis race or in your own hometown. Even if breast cancer has not touched your life, you never know when that turning point may occur. It will occur to someone, somewhere, every single day.
Until there’s a cure.
*Next year, Mom, not this one.