Fall has always been my favorite time of year. I love all of the things written about in poetry and literature: the colors, the air, the frost, the digging out of sweaters and jackets, and the laughing complaints about the temperatures. The fall season (and early winter) has lots of great holidays, also: my birthday in September, Halloween, Thanksgiving, Christmas, Dashain and Dipawali, and sometimes Ramadan, to name a few. I especially like Halloween. I love the costumes that both kids and adults wear. Two friends of mine who have since left town threw the greatest Halloween parties in Bloomington: some of the costumes over the years include a group that came as an African village , an American Gothic couple, and the Blues Brothers. I have gone as a constellation (the swan); as Kali the Hindu goddess, and as a Tibetan woman. I miss their parties and the dancing and drumming and general good time that we all had.
These days, though, I have very mixed feelings about October. Exactly nine years ago this week I was diagnosed with breast cancer. Before the final diagnosis, I had had a lot of tests, and joked to my friends that I was going to go to a Halloween party as a skeleton that glowed in the dark because of some of the tests I had had.
October, it turns out, is National Breast Cancer month, so there’s some irony in being diagnosed with the disease of the month in that very month. October now grabs my attention: all of my follow-up tests also fall within that month, and fear that has been quieted during most of the rest of the year rises up for about three weeks. The check-ups include a mammogram, an ultrasound, a physical by the oncologist, and blood tests. Any one of these can bring bad news, and the results seem to trickle in while you are waiting over the days. If the news is good, you breathe a little more easily, not ever, ever forgetting what might still be making mischief in your body, but putting it away from most of your waking hours for a time.
Each year, the annual tests have been negative (which, contrary to the meaning of “negative” in other contexts, is actually “positive”). Up until those results come in, though, I can’t bring myself to make any commitments. But the first year, when the diagnosis was positive, I had to cancel a lunch with my best friend because I was too scared by the diagnosis to eat or talk. I have mentioned magical thinking in my other writings, and believe me, it kicks into full gear in October!
Five years ago, the cancer tests were good too, but instead of that, my cat bit me so badly on the thumb on the side where the lymph nodes were removed during the lumpectomy procedure, that I had to go to the emergency room to have it tended to. That resulted in a 6 week long daily (including weekends) treatment of debrasion, antibiotic shots and antibiotic pills. It ended up taking 6 months to fully heal, and I missed the wedding of the daughter of the friend whose birthday lunch I had had to cancel two years before! Her birthday is next week, and needless to say, we are waiting until the following week to celebrate, because magical thinking reminds me that I might be tempting the return of the cancer gods if I don’t postpone it until the Thought Magician tells me it’s safe.
Pink has never been my favorite color, and yet now, I have added it to the repertoire of autumn colors. As a child, I was dressed in pink because my mom followed the fashion rules of the day: pastels for blondes and bright hues for brunettes. My sister got to wear reds and dark blues, I had to wear pink and powder blue…I hate pastels! These days, though, I do wear pink sometimes…I hate cancer more than the color. I have a pink shirt, some pink scarves, and socks with pink breast cancer ribbons on them. When the SIRA/IMA walk for breast cancer occurs in October, and I wear them all. But the walk also gives rise to mixed feelings for me: It is heart-warming that so many people come out in support, but it is also heart-breaking to see how many of them have had breast cancer.
I always forget that anyone, including men, can develop this terrible disease. I like to think that we are all united in our experience, and those supporters are united with us. But, of course, we are as diverse as any community can be. Last year I was talking with a lady who works at SIRA, whom I didn’t know. I had told her that my oncologist, whom I had just seen the day before, had mentioned that most people who work at SIRA/IMA had decided to wear pink on that Friday. He said that while people agreed, some of the other cancer specialists had asked why just pink for breast cancer…why not the other cancers, too? I told this lady that I had told him that maybe we should all wear rainbows. She gave me a disgusted look, said ‘I don’t think so’, and walked away! Only then did I realize that she associated the rainbow with LGBTQ folk and she wanted nothing to do with it…the cancer experience does not unite us after all.
Yet, it does bring us together, in ways we probably would rather not have happened. Just recently, I learned that a friend of mine had joined this not-so-exclusive group…October has not lost its force at all: one more pink to add to the fall colors.
for Poplar Grove Muse