Parents gather daily and chat as they wait to pick up their children at school. There I overhear the following conversation. Mom 1 says, “Did you hear that awful news about that mom that has four young kids and just found out she has breast cancer?” Mom 2 replies “No way, I know her. She is super healthy and wakes up at 5 every morning to go workout so she would be back home as her kids were getting ready for their day.” Mom 3 adds, “I think she is only 40. It must run in her family, or maybe she was using toxic deodorant.”
They’re talking about ME at my kids school, preschool, my church, the moms group I am part of, my husband’s work, my husband’s social groups, the gym where I exercise, every one of my family members and friends, and their churches and their prayer groups. I’ve never been one to seek attention, have always preferred to avoid the spotlight but here I am now, the topic on everyone’s tongues, for the worst of reasons.
Tears streamed down my face the moment I realized I am the Mom they’re talking about. We are “that family.” Telling your kids is so difficult. My 9 year old daughter has never been the same. My 8 year old is tough to read, and seems to carry on as that same big brother to our 5 and 3 yr old boys. I gave a plush bear to my daughter the day I told her. “Cancer” is her name. At least it is a happy bear.
For the record, I have been using natural, non-toxic deodorant as long as I can remember. Breast cancer does not run in my family. While it’s natural to wonder why one person gets cancer and another does not, making assumptions or starting rumors helps no one, least of all me.
Now that I am fighting breast cancer, I find myself surrounded by women who have already been on this journey. I keep asking myself why and how does this keep happening? I had no idea how many women have been going through this battle. I joined mybcteam, a social media platform where breast cancer patients can find support and ask questions. I was surprised at the number of users between the ages of 25-49. I had always considered those years of a woman’s life to be the motherhood years. Talk about a reality check.
Since my diagnosis, I am stuck in the “What the heck!?” stage. Why didn’t I know more about this? I’m fully aware of breast cancer awareness month when no one can miss that the country is covered in pink. I see a lot of people having fun running 5ks and having walks, but for some reason, it never resonated with me. How did I miss the awareness and education with all that pink for all these years? Because I didn’t think it pertained to me. I thought I was healthy. I had my yearly exams and started my mammograms at age 35. Because I had cystic breasts, my mammograms included ultrasounds. My doctor assured me there was no need to worry, just cysts. So I thought I was safe.
It has become my goal to spread the word that cancer does not discriminate. No one is immune to cancer. Many people who get cancer lack the commonly listed risk factors, such as genetic predisposition. No matter how healthy you are or how much you exercise or how healthy your diet, you can get cancer. Just ask the 1 in 8 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime. You may be at even higher risk due to certain factors but remember, cancer does not play by rules.
It is a fact that if you are diagnosed with breast cancer at an early stage, your survival chances are very high. It doesn’t mean it won’t suck. It just means the sooner the cancer is detected, the better off you and your family will be.
I was diagnosed on February 3, 2016 with invasive carcinoma with lobular features. Since that day my life has never been the same and neither will it be for my amazing kids and husband. I am willing to share all and show all. I have to do something. I want other women to understand the importance of check-ups and screenings and what to look for. If just that one person finds it early because they educated themselves about breast cancer, that would bring joy to my heart and all who are battling cancer. Educate yourself. Make time for your body and your well-being. If you do join the 1 in 8 Club, hopefully you will catch it early.
By Dalanee Claxton Kennon
The Dalanee Awareness Fund