October is one of my favorite months.
It’s the beginning of basketball and hockey seasons, the increasing climax of football season and the end of baseball season. It’s a time when we start to break out the hoodies once reserved for summer bonfires, jeans last used in the winter, and can, without judgment, begin to hold on to the warmth of coffee or hot chocolate.
But, more importantly, it also serves as the calendar month dedicated to breast cancer awareness.
Throughout my childhood, there was always a touch of pink added to our home during the fall months: pink light bulbs illuminating our front walk, a pink ribbon pen or a Susan G. Komen T-shirt.
At a young age, it became relatively clear to me that our family was dedicated to fighting this disease. During these years, though, I never understood why and just how close to home this deadly disease’s particular brand hit.
I was 2 years old when my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer. My brother John had just started his freshman year at Allegheny College in Meadville, Pennsylvania, and my brother Ryan was still in high school. Unlike them, I was not nearly old enough to realize what was going on and I have little to no recollection of the uncertainty my mom faced during that time.
Finally, after enough adults had mentioned it around me and right around the time one of her best friends had been diagnosed, I asked my mother about her bout with breast cancer. Until that point, it was just something we never talked about.
She took the opportunity to go through the whole story: how she found out, just how awful the chemotherapy was, how helpful my brothers were during that time, and, triumphantly, the day nearly 19 years ago she was told the cells were no longer cancerous.
And, in finding everything out, never was I prouder to have a mom who not only endured breast cancer but beat it.
Since then, I have always done all that I could to raise awareness, not just during the month of October, but throughout the year. Whether it is through the smallest advocacy project, such as coordinating a football stadium “pink out” during a high school football game or simply a donation, any outreach is my way of paying it forward in order to thank God for giving me the opportunity to have my mother for all these years after her diagnosis and victorious battle.
And, for Mom? Almost four years ago – on her birthday, nonetheless – she welcomed her first grandchild, Evelyn Rose. And then, two years later, another grandchild, Emilia Grace. That, I’m sure, has been gift enough.
To those who know our family, it’s always been said that my mother’s canonization date is well overdue. She is a saint, through and through. For all that she has done and continues to do for our family, October is more than 31 days of awareness – it’s a month-long Mother’s Day.
The saying may seem cliche, but it stands true: cherish every moment you have with the people you love. My mom was lucky – she is one of the 3.5 million breast cancer survivors, rather than one of the nearly 42,000 women in the U.S. expected to die of this disease this year.
And while that statistic, provided by the National Breast Cancer Foundation Inc., has continued to go down since 1989, our challenge moving forward must be to make the latter statistic nonexistent and do all that we can to make the former increase beyond measure.
It’s a pipe dream, I know.
But, when awareness turns into action, the fight against any form of cancer will last beyond a month and perhaps, finally, a cure will be found.
Legendary actor Martin Sheen tells the following story at various speaking engagements:
“A man came to the gates of heaven and demanded to be let in,” he explained at this particular engagement in Vancouver. “Saint Peter said ‘Of course, just show us your scars.’ The man said, ‘I have no scars.’ Saint Peter replied, ‘What a pity – was there nothing worth fighting for?’”
Sheen added, “I encourage you to find something worth fighting for because when you do, you’ll have united the will of the spirit to the work of the flesh and all of humanity will have discovered fire for the second time.”
I know how I’ll unite the will of my spirit to the work of my flesh – spending my life fighting against breast cancer and other life-threatening diseases on behalf of the woman who made that life possible, to begin with.
I hope that you'll join me.
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