“Pinktober”: the warriors, the champions, the supporters in Breast Cancer Awareness Month

You may have noticed that I have not been writing much recently. This is not because I suddenly decided that I hate writing; far from it. However, for the remainder of this month, my posts may be few and far between.

October happens to be Breast Cancer Awareness Month (or, to use its rather clumsy name “Pinktober”). Everything is smothered in pink (I would like to see a building in Kingston lit up pink, but I suppose it’s a bit late now).

As you may know by now, I was diagnosed with breast cancer just as summer was starting. After surgery in July, I am now well advanced in my journey and have reached what I trust and hope will be the final stage of my breast cancer journey: three weeks of radiation treatment. It is a daily appointment with a huge, ponderous machine which clicks, and whirs, and buzzes, and moves itself around until it’s had enough of me. At this point, one of the charming nurses (one is Cuban, the other South African) comes in to set me free. Sometimes they write rather puzzling symbols on my right breast, which only they understand. It looks like the “noughts and crosses” game.

The entire procedure is quite short and painless, but I have found myself rather tired after each session, although I am only a third of the way through. My head feels fuzzy and heavy; I take frequent naps at odd times of the day, waking up and wondering what time it is.

I am looking forward to Monday, October 24 – my very last session. I shall then rejoice, along with my incredibly supportive husband and family! Life is good. It is worth fighting for.

So, all of this is not in the least bit conducive to writing blog posts. To be honest, it’s an effort to write this post! Instead, I find myself lying in bed with my overworked iPhone, tweeting to distract myself and “WhatsApping” family and friends. I also read my Kindle and follow my Oxford alumni book club, which keeps me on my toes. I also watch Netflix Scandinavian crime series (“Nordic Noir”). Having just worked through a mesmerizing series set in Iceland – those white mountains! – I have moved on to Norway. Instead of a teddy bear-like Icelandic detective with a large beard and a heart of gold, I am now following the investigative fortunes of a haughty Norwegian woman with high cheek bones, who quivers with sensitivity and repressed emotions.

The imposing but adorable Icelandic detective Andri and his sidekick Hinricka (who does a lot of frowning) on Netflix. Highly recommended Nordic noir!

I have also rediscovered our garden, which has grown to jungle-like proportions since all the heavy rains. So every day I venture out with clippers and do some gentle trimming and snipping, and admire little things that I had not noticed before (including the arriving migratory birds). I have also started posting a “Good morning” and “Good evening” iPhone photo from our yard, on Twitter (@petchary). It’s a kind of therapy. Little things help.

Meanwhile, Damion Mitchell of the Jamaica Gleaner has created a series on “Breast Cancer Warriors” through a series of Twitter threads, articles, and YouTube videos. He included me in one of them; what I like about this is that these are the personal stories of a range of people of different ages and walks of life. Mr. Mitchell even spoke to a male survivor of breast cancer (yes, men can get breast cancer too, although it is extremely rare). You can read my story here and watch the video here (I wish I didn’t ramble on so much!)

There are many champions and cheerleaders out there – including Dr. Michael “Mikey” Abrahams, a popular gynaecologist, newspaper columnist, performer, and poet (yes! an interesting combination) with a singular empathy for women. He has been supporting “Pinktober” for years. Here is one of his videos, on the importance of self-examination: “Feel Up Yu Bress” – his humour is contagious.

Mikey’s origami birds, for a good cause.

This year, Mikey has made lots of beautiful origami birds, which are on sale at pharmacists – no fixed cost, but donations are for Jamaica Cancer Society. This is lovely. Do look out for them at the cash desk.

The Ministry of Health and Wellness could, perhaps, have at least organised a webinar on what is the most common form of cancer for women in Jamaica (66.9 women per 100,000); but seem to have left much of it to local media and the private sector, who have definitely stepped up to the plate, putting out daily snippets of information and some really good messaging. Congratulations to all those who have included some “pink” in their logos for the month. I like it.

You can support the Jamaica Cancer Society by purchasing their merchandise, or just make a donation. If you are 40 years or older, make an appointment for your mammogram today!

This is my key message for the month! Please, please get your mammogram done and get it done as regularly and often as the doctor recommends. It does not have to be expensive (go to the Jamaica Cancer Society, a non-governmental organisation, as I do every year). It is not painful or very uncomfortable, and it takes just a few minutes. Compared to the pain, discomfort, anxiety (and high cost) of a cancer diagnosis, having a mammogram is nothing at all. (Don’t forget to get your Pap smear done at the same time, ladies!)

So, early detection is key – as it was in my own case. If I had not had regular checkups (or any at all) I would undoubtedly have been in a much worse position than I am now.

My final thought, for now is… The psychological impact of a cancer diagnosis is not to be underestimated. For all the breast cancer survivors I know, it was a huge shock, and in many ways one never gets used to the idea. It seems unreal. But, as my dear friend Petre Williams Raynor told me in a long chat we had after I first got the news… I am not my breasts. I wrote about Petre here.

Support groups save lives and can keep you from “going under.” More on this in a later blog post!

This means that support is critical. Family, friends, doctors (my amazing doctors, Dr. Natalie Sharpe and Dr. Conrad Morris, I love you so much!) and even people you have never met (a Twitter friend, for example) can really be a great support system! Every message asking “How are you?” means a lot. So, get that support wherever you can find it – and it is out there and not hard to find. Don’t fight it alone.

Love to all the breast cancer warriors out there! Keep the faith.

3 thoughts on ““Pinktober”: the warriors, the champions, the supporters in Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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