A World Without Breast CancerEssays, Featured — By Sarah Thebarge on October 21, 2010 at 8:00 am
I returned from a 10-day trip to France on October 6th. After the customs agent stamped my passport, I proceeded through the next set of doors, heading towards baggage claim.
And that’s when I saw it. A ginormous poster with a big pink ribbon and the words, “Imagine A World Without Breast Cancer.” I had forgotten about Breast Cancer Awareness month. Either France doesn’t have one or it’s much more subdued, because the whole time I was there the only pink I noticed was the pastel sky over the Seine at sunset.
My first thought was, “A world without breast cancer would mean not being jolted out of vacation mode by a pink ribbon the size of a refrigerator.”
As I waited for my luggage, my second thought was, “After living in the world of breast cancer for four years, you’d think I’d be better adapted than this.”
You’d think I’d get used to pink breast cancer references. But they get me every time. Instead of being a comforting reminder of love and support, pink ribbons are like a Taser gun. Every time I see one, I’m jolted. Speechless. Tearful.
Ever since I heard those fateful words, “You have breast cancer,” I have been trying to imagine my life without it. And I can’t. It has permeated everything, and I can’t get it out. It has impacted my finances, relationships, education, eating habits, sleeping patterns, writing material, clothing choices, body image, and my faith.
At my last doctor’s appointment, I was trying to explain to my oncologist how drastically the cancer diagnosis continues to affect me. He suggested I talk to a breast cancer counselor, “because you have to figure out a new normal.”
And I thought, “I don’t need a new normal; just give me the old one back.” I would rather eliminate hot flashes, mastectomy scars and chemo chairs than make room for them in my 31-year-old life. But what would I have if they were gone?
The book of Genesis opens with Adam and Eve eating forbidden fruit from “the tree of the knowledge of good and evil.”
Much has been made of the evil introduced into the world by Adam and Eve’s fall from grace. Death, in all its forms, became reality. There’s no question that their knowledge of evil (and ours) was a fatal consequence of their sin.
But the tree wasn’t just the knowledge of evil; it was also the knowledge of good. Which makes me think that even after they were banished from Eden and experiencing pain for the first time in history, there must have been a part of them that was tasting goodness for the first time, too. Maybe forgiveness, redemption and companionship were enough to keep them from descending into utter despair.
When I imagine my life without breast cancer, I envision no pain and no scars. But if I gave up those things, I’d have to give up all the good that came with them.
The kindness of people who paid my rent while I was going through chemo.
The compliments from strangers about my perfectly round bald head and the baseball hats I wore to disguise it.
The colleagues who saw patients for me so I could rest for a few extra minutes.
The family who saw me at my worst and loved me anyway.
The friends who sat with me while I cried in silence.
The flicker of hope that made me think maybe the treatments would be worth it, maybe life would get better, maybe it wouldn’t always be so hard.
When people say you have to take the good with the bad, they’re not just reiterating a cliché ; they’re speaking truth. In this world we experience many troubles, but thank God, trouble’s traveling companion is grace. Evil is assuaged by good.
If I had to choose, I’d still take a life without cancer over the pain I’ve experienced over the past four years. But it’s not up to me. The only choice I have is to accept this “new normal,” as my oncologist says. To make the most of the gift of life I’ve been given – a gift of messy mixed blessings that arrives on my doorstep every morning, tied up in a tangle of pink ribbon.