Breast Cancer: My Story of Awareness and Community
October (yes, even in California) is marked by cooler temperatures, the resurgence of football, colorful leaves falling from trees, and (if you’re particularly sharp-eyed) pink. Pink ribbons, pink shoes, pink banners, you name it. October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month, and that is our community’s symbol.
My first mammogram was at the age of 42. It was routine. I didn’t think much of it and basically did what any of us might do – chalk the examination up to “chore” health stuff and cross it off an annual list.
Four years passed and my inner voice convinced me to go again – something felt… not right. At first, I ignored it. COVID started, the world was scared, and I just wrote off the feeling. Days went by, and the inner voice did not settle so I gave in and spoke with my physician. I was examined, I was referred to others, and I was tested again and again. Mammograms, ultrasounds, MRIs, biopsies, the works.
On March 5, 2021, I was diagnosed with Stage 0 DCIS Grade 2 breast cancer.
Breast cancer hadn’t really been a factor in my life – not my friends, family, etc. I had spent over an hour at the doctor’s office going through options and procedure planning, all the while thinking… why me?! My fear was palpable. My daughter was about to turn ten. What could happen to me if these recommendations didn’t work? What about my husband and daughter? She is still so young. What happens if…
It can be a very isolating experience, like being targeted and singled out for mortal punishment. The truth is 1 in 8 women (about 13%) and 1 in 833 men (about 1%) will develop breast cancer in their lifetime and the risk increases as you age. About 85% of breast cancer occurs in women who have had no family history. The American Cancer Society recommends that all women aged 40 and older should have annual mammograms.
Early detection is key to survival.
And while my survival story centers around early detection which led to two surgeries (double mastectomy and reconstruction), it wasn’t and isn’t the full story here. Yes, I am a survivor, and while that’s tremendous in itself, I didn’t realize the significance and importance until I saw the emergence of my community.
I’m going to be honest with you, there is no greater feeling of acknowledgment, acceptance, and understanding than someone who is or has shared a difficult journey. It does not require a lifetime of knowledge or memories, there are some communities where the bond is deeper… and in my case, experience-to-survival was the connection piece.
When I started sharing my story after diagnosis, I didn’t necessarily seek a particular audience. I shared my story with everyone (friends, family, and even clients) – my mission was: “Ladies, listen up, this is happening to me, please make sure it doesn’t happen to you. Early diagnosis is everything.” From one of these group conversations, a woman contacted me directly, I didn’t know her very well. She shared her story, one much like mine, and as sad and scary as it was, it gave me so much comfort. Even reading that back, “comfort” doesn’t truly convey the depth of what I felt. I was not alone.
After that, a friend let me know she was diagnosed and reached out for support. My child’s coach’s mom got breast cancer, and she reached out and then another and another. People were looking to me to understand my experience to help them with their own journeys.
Time has passed now. My family is moving in a few short weeks to a new state. It’s a good change, and I am looking forward to it. But I will be far away from my ladies – these women warriors. Truth be told we had not met in person, but I think it’s time.
Just a few weeks ago, after hemming and hawing about it, I decided to invite them out for dinner, together. They don’t know one another, but we all have this THING in common. Detection. Diagnosis. Change. Survival. I was scared they would be too shy or worried about letting a new person into their journeys. That was not the case, each lady immediately responded. I know why, too: it’s because community matters.
So, our dinner is coming up in a week. We will meet and share and understand, and we will build something quiet yet strong. If there’s anything wretched COVID has taught us it’s that while time and space are hard, togetherness is not impossible. Video calls, online community platforms, and smartphones can help decrease distance. I’ve been at ModSquad long enough to see the power of togetherness and community, and how far that can reach across the world. I’m hoping that for us too.
And while I have a “new normal” (as anyone who has the scars of survival can attest), I was granted an opportunity to have “normal” because of early detection, and my early detection has helped others. It’s built me a small warrior community, and that’s life-saving in many ways.
So this October, ladies and gentlemen, when you see the pink ribbons on lapels or pink helmets during NFL games, think of us “1 in 8” for a moment and maybe go get tested. And should you need us, this warrior community of survivors, we’ll be here.
— Theresa Galle, Account ManagerThis entry was posted in Community. Bookmark the permalink.
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