I received a nice note from a friend last night. Her words sat on top of a chain email created to remind recipents of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
I’m not one to pass on chain-mail to friends. I can count on one hand — using two fingers — the times I’ve actually been moved to do so. But my friend’s note did get me to thinking about “Pink October”, which in the middle of a restless night, rose up to carry me to memories of my own sister and other hand-picked sisters who’ve survived this scary disease.
My sister was thirty-three when diagnosed — too young for breast cancer. I vividly remember the day Christi told me about the lump in her breast. I just happened to be in Oklahoma that June for a visit — maybe it was for Father’s Day or maybe it was just to be there for Christi’s question — and we were taking a walk in our usual spot — in all places, a cemetery.
I recall Christi being somewhat gun-shy in voicing her concern. Perhaps she had already mentioned it to Mom, who had a good way of dismissing worries out of hand. If so, I’ll be forever thankful she voiced her concern a second time to someone like me, who tends to err on the side of caution. When it comes to health matters, my thinking has always been: Why worry about the unknown when a visit to the doctor will inform whether there’s anything to worry about? So it was easy for me to tell Christi that the lump was probably nothing, but to not treat is as nothing.
Of course the rest of the story was that Christi discovered the lump was cancer — an aggressive stage two if I recall correctly. I cried when I heard the news. By the next day, I was at her hospital bedside to keep her company by night. The night is the worst time for fears to rise up out of their shadows, including those scarry goblin thoughts of death. And while ultimately we are forced to face our fears of death alone, I still had a deep need to be with my sister, to ensure she received the care she deserved from an always too-busy hospital staff.
Thank God my sister has been a breast cancer survivor for fourteen years now. And because of her, I go and get an annual mammogram. And because of her casual mention of it, I joined the Sister Study three year ago. According to the Sister Study website,
“The Sister Study is one of the first long-term studies to help us understand how women’s genes and the things in their environment — homes, workplaces, and communities — influence risk of breast cancer. It is the first to collect such extensive and detailed information about environmental exposures.”
I am one of 50,000 sisters admitted into the study. We sisters met the criteria of being breast cancer free and having a sister that wasn’t so lucky. God willing, I’ll be part of this study for ten years. But if the worst happens, and I too become stricken with breast cancer, Study personnel will jump on me like a duck on a June bug. I know this because I’ve already given them my permission to do so. And in the meantime, I tell the reserachers everything they think they might need to know about my life and life choices. And I update this information every two years, whenever I receive their heavy information packet. I pray the information gathered will help find a cure for breast cancer — and that this knowledge may transfer to finding a cure for other cancers.
To my blood sister and my hand-picked sisters who are breast cancer survivors — like Vickie in Oklahoma City, and Joni in Louisville and Litha in Lake Jackson — I express thanks to God that you are all survivors. I’m part of the Sister Study because of you.