Pink Ribbons And Purple Hearts

‘Courage: noun- the quality of mind or spirit that enables a person to face difficulty,danger, pain, etc., without fear; bravery.’ I got this off Dictionary.com. But they’re wrong. There is plenty of fear involved in courage, it is facing difficulty, danger, pain, etc IN SPITE of fear.

I work with some of the most courageous people on the planet. Women who have breast cancer. And trust me — there is plenty of fear to go around. Breast cancer used to kill more of them, but it still kills plenty. Just becasue we’re finding it earlier doesn’t mean it always ends well and we’ve got it on the run with better chemo, more focused radiation and hereditary gene detection. Fuck no.

I could tell you about some of these women and make you cry. You would cry buckets over their stories. New mothers who found their cancers when they were nursing, pregnant women putting off chemo and radiation until after they can deliver their babies, young women who are gene positive having their breasts removed because their grandmothers, mothers, aunts and now their sisters have all died from breast cancer, tough women with tattoos who talk to me about their bikes as they go under anesthesia, softer women who hold mala beads and accept The Universe’s plan, maidens, mothers, and crones. My friends. My co-workers. They are all there. Every religion, every ethnicity, every language.

They come to my OR to fight the alien that is living in their breast and destroying their life, their future. All they want is to live. They know life will never be the same again. If they get through this — forever after they will have earned the right to be called a Survivor. It’s a club none of them asked to join. For Survivors the cloud of a recurrence will never recede from their lives; it hangs like a shadow. Even after the magical five years of remission anniversary, none of them will completely exhale again. Ever.

All of us who stand with them in their fight are changed by their courage. These women never stop being who they are even in the heat of their battle. They remain mothers, wives, sisters, daughters to the people they love. They do not pull into themselves and let the disease define them. I see it in the short time I spend with them pre-operatively — they are still taking care of their shell shocked family on the very day of their surgery. They are trying to make sure their kids got to school, that their mom has enough tissues and that their husband (who looks like he is facing a firing squad) is in the most comfortable chair in the room. They know they can’t die, because who would take care of these people in their life if not for them?

When you see the matriach in a family unit wounded it touches something deep in your soul. Humans respond to that on an instinctual level. We have to save this human, because in doing so, we also save this family. We must save this family.

To all the Survivors in my life, I am so thankful you kicked cancer’s ass.

To my fellow nurses and surgeons who stand with me in this space, I know of no better, kinder, humane humans to do this work with.

I am so very grateful to the courageous women who allow me to share their path in this journey. They inspire me daily with their love and strength. I am in awe of you. You are my heroes.

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