More birthdays, please!

October 13, 2009

As the health care bill makes its way through the Senate Finance Committee, and pink washes over the countryside, the American Cancer Society is campaigning for more birthdays.  That’s right.  More birthdays.  Where in the past perhaps women have unofficially “stopped” having birthdays at 39, the ACS wants everyone to have more birthdays.

And you know what?  I do too.   I desperately want more birthdays.  I want to turn 39, and 40, and all the lovely numbers that come after that.  I want to blow out the candles with my kids, and see my littlest one turn 3, and 4, and become the big kid that he thinks he already is.  I want to take my big kid to school, and teach both kids to drive, and be there when they get all gussied up for prom, or whatever the digital equivalent will be in 2025 (yikes!).

I’m taking steps to make that happen.  And I’m telling you all about it every step of the way.  I also talk a lot about mothers with cancer that I know from the other site, like Lyn, who just returned home from a double mastectomy and full hysterectomy … just a week after she finished chemo!  Or our Aussie friend Jenni Ballentyne, who is living full-time at hospice now, seeing her son Jack on the weekend, who has fought the good fight, but whose time is near.  Or Katie Homen, who we recently lost.  But today I have someone else to talk about.

Sherry K.  Miss Sherry, as my kids call her, as their faces light up with smiles.  Miss Sherry was my son’s preschool teacher last year.  Soft-spoken, kind, but determined, Miss Sherry always saw the best in the kids, and helped bring it out in them.  The class of 3’s was close-knit, gentle with each other, and friends with all.  In the early morning, both boys and girls sat quietly and did puzzles at the table.  At 10, both girls and boys ran around on the playground.  At noon pickup, they were the well-behaved class that came down the hall quietly, but with smiles on their face.  Whether encouraging parents to leave notes of praise for good behavior the kids had done or telling us about the way our kids loved participating in the drama skits she planned, Miss Sherry was always gentle, and kind, and attentive, and all the things you’d hope your child’s preschool teacher would be.

Miss Sherry helped me, too.  The first day I met her was only days after my oopherectomy, and I was so faint it was difficult for me to squeeze into the little chairs at the preschool-sized table.  I was self-conscious about my arm, with the sleeve and glove that marked me as “different.”  I didn’t want my kid to be seen as different, though.  I didn’t want people feeling sorry for him, or have him referred to as “the one whose mom has cancer.”  I didn’t want people to know.  But Miss Sherry knew.  And she pulled me aside and shared a little secret with me.

Miss Sherry is a 21 year survivor of breast cancer.  And she is now doing wonderfully, and remembers it as a time long ago, not a driver of every day life.  Throughout the year, she kept tabs on me as well as my child, asking about me when I wasn’t the one to drop Widget off at school, complimenting me on my hair as it grew out, or when my color returned and I looked like I had more energy.  She was there when I had to go back to daily lymphedema therapy, again, and again, and sometimes Widget was late to school.  She is still there at the school this year, and we smile as we pass in the hall.  We know something that not everyone knows, you see.  We know how very precious this life is, and how I almost lost this opportunity to tell you so.

Miss Sherry put a note in the preschool newsletter this week, reminding everyone to get their mammograms, do their self-exams, and remind “all the women in your life” to do the same.  It may seem like a little thing, to say what everyone says in October, but for a 21 year survivor to even want to think about this dastardly disease again, much less show such compassion and outreach, means a lot to me.

And so I dedicate this post to Miss Sherry, and I wish for her, and for all of you, many, many more birthdays.

Is there a survivor in your life that inspires you, makes you laugh, or touches your heart? Join the ACS more birthdays meme by posting about her or him on your own blog, or in the comments here, and grab yourself this badge.

More birthdays. That sounds pretty good to me.

Every time

October 11, 2009

Every time I think maybe I’ll step back from blogging, or change the subject to something cheerier, it happens that I get another moving message from a reader, who reminds me how important it is to keep talking about inflammatory breast cancer (the fast moving cancer WITHOUT A LUMP) and encouraging our researchers and politicians to make progress on finding not just treatment, but a cure.

Today I heard from Diane, who wrote to me 14 months ago when her dear sister-in-law Meighan was diagnosed with inflammatory breast cancer.  Diane says,

It has taken me three months to write you a note regarding IBC and my sister in law Meighan.  Today, I decided to write you to tell you I appreciate your advocacy and your hope and ongoing strength for so many women. Meighan, at age 40 lost her 14 month battle in June to her stage 4 IBC. She and my brother have 2 young girls and now we see how much this cancer has changed their lives. For Meighan, I walk in one of many breast cancer walks this month and I go and help another friend today pick her daughter up at preschool while she is in the hospital having surgery for her early stage Breast Cancer.  I wrote you when Meighan was diagnosed (2008) and I thank you for your information. I wish for you a cure and I will continue to try and do my part in raising awarness and funds.
Dave, my brother, will run the NYC Marathon in her memory and has raised $7,000 in one week for Fred’s Team. This is an organization thru Sloan Kettering where she had her treatments.  October is the most beautiful month here in the DC area and I too so very much want it to be about a cure for Breast Cancer.

Meighan was diagnosed after me, and now she’s gone.

This cancer is serious, folks, and it doesn’t mess around.  Please take a moment to check yourself, or to remind a friend of yours with breasts to check herself, and look not only for lumps but for ANYTHING UNUSUAL on one breast that is not on the other.  Here’s a quick visual (safe for work) that shows some changes you might want to call your doctor about.  And don’t worry about bothering her … if your breast is different than it was last month … and the other one isn’t … trust me, she wants to know.

In memory

September 30, 2009
Dear friends, I received the following letter today from a blogfriend, C.E., who walked with me in the Komen Race for the Cure two years ago, during my chemotherapy treatment.  It meant so much to me that day, and the memory still makes me smile.  But her letter didn’t.  Please read it, and leave your comments for C.E. for the loss of her friend.
Dear Susan,
My friend Simcha Esther (Shari) Gershan just lost her battle with cancer last night at the end of Yom Kippur, the holiest day of our year.  She made a documentary about her life, and was planning on attending the film’s premiere on October 22. Unfortunately she will not be there (but of course, will in spirit).
Perhaps your readers who live in the NY area would be interested in attending this event and learning from this inspiring woman.
Your loyal reader

Farewell, Senator Kennedy.

August 26, 2009

Cancer sucks.