Let’s talk about breasts, baby…

Let’s talk about you and me,

Let’s talk about all the good things,

And the bad things, that may be….

To paraphrase the 90’s Salt-N-Pepa classic, let’s talk about breasts. Because they’ve been on my mind.  And apologies to any manly readers – this probably isn’t going to be the cleavage coverage you may be hoping for.  But it’s important, nonetheless.

I’m a little late in my timing, given that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.  And I’ve been meaning to get to this for a little while.  It’s taken some incredibly good news this week from one of my personal role models to get me into gear.

Breast cancer is the #1 cancer affecting women in NZ, with one in nine women experiencing this disease sometime in their lifetime.  One in nine, and then multiply this by the number of people the average person may be close to…there probably aren’t that many folk around who haven’t been impacted in some way.

I’ve been very lucky in that it hasn’t directly happened to me or my closest family members.  We seem to have genes more disposed to arthritis and hearing issues. Maybe it’s blind luck, or basic statistics.  Whichever, I am grateful.

Having said that, breast cancer has hit a few women who are hugely important in my life, however. One is going through it right now, in fact.  She got on to it early, and the good news from earlier this week was that no chemo is going to be needed at this stage, just radio and hormone treatment (I say ‘just’, like that’s nothing, which of course isn’t true, but chemo really is a bitch so this is good news..huge news even).  Initial surgery was successful, so it’s now the long road of treatment and assessment and vigilant watching ahead.

I am not in any way exaggerating when I say that this woman is extraordinary.  She is surrounded by one of the most awe-inspiring circles of love you could ever imagine, a result of the sheer magnitude of love she gives out.  She believes in angels, which I’ve come to realise is pretty much what she herself is.  I wish everyone was lucky enough to have a Mary in their life, as you’ve never come across a more life-affirming package of spirit. We used to work together, she’s a Hospice specialist, which probably gives you an idea of how special we’re talking – palliative care is one of the most challenging yet rewarding areas of health-care around.  The grace, dignity and honour she shares with every patient she meets is humbling, and taught me so much about respect, gratitude and being authentic.  It seems so unfair that breast cancer is hitting her, as if there should be some sort of moratorium for people who devote their lives to helping others in the ways she has.  But life’s not like that.  That’s one of the biggest lessons around.  And I have no doubt that she’s going to kick cancer’s a**, but in such a positive and grace-filled way it’s probably going to leave the disease feeling like it is better off for having known her!

There are fingers and toes crossed all around the country, all around the globe, for her.  Prayers are being said, wishes are being made on stars, and love is being sent.  Life has a funny way of reminding us of the importance of love and connections, even when you may not be as physically close to old friends or in such close contact.

One other woman in my life directly affected by this horrible disease is one of the most important and steadfast friends and confidants a girl could have.  She’s my ‘other’ mom (well, one of them).  Her three amazing daughters are world-changers each in their own way, and her oldest is one of the closest things to a sister I am ever going to get.  I can’t even imagine my life without this daughter of hers in it – so much of who I am and how I’ve become ‘me’ has been influenced and witnessed by this soul sister, and therefore I won’t even ponder what we’d all do without her amazing mum.

It’s more good news on that front too, as she’s all clear and has been for a fair few years now.  I remember when we found out she’d been diagnosed a number of years ago; it was one of the first ‘adult’ things we’d all had to deal with really.

She got through it, as so many brave people do, with spirit and dignity and again, grace. There was humour and love, and fear and honesty.  I still remember getting the news that the ‘all clear’ had been given – actual tears of relief.  I can only imagine how the family felt.  Her strength through the illness and beyond, to face her fears and fight back, has pretty much changed my idea of what courage is.  She’s inspired so many of ‘her girls’ to be brave in so many ways, and for that we are all grateful, every day.

One other woman whom I don’t know so well but who I feel I do, thanks to the awewsomeness that is her daughter, went through the big old BC challenge about 2.5 years back.  I got to learn even more about the disease and how facing something like this can change us all by walking alongside her daughter as her mom faced this fight.  It was an honour to be able to be there, even in the most basic of ways, and I will forever remember the image of Awesome’s smile when she told me her mom was cleared.

I realise how incredibly blessed I am to have had such limited exposure to this intrusive and destructive disease.  I know there are so many who aren’t as lucky as these three special woman have been so far.  With about 680 women dying each year in NZ from breast cancer, it’s massive.  It affects us all.  And of course men are impacted too, both directly (men have breasts too, even if we don’t think of them the same way and they don’t serve the same purpose(s) and indirectly as friends and family.

The thing we all need to be reminded of, no matter how often we hear it, is to check.  Check well and check often.  It’s not one of those ‘it’ll never happen to me’ things.  It’s not one of those ‘it’s for older women’ things, or even an ‘I’m sure I’d pick it up early’ things.  You won’t without diligence.  And one of the most important factors is early detection.  So at the risk of preaching on, please please make this something as routine as washing your hair.

Hey, you could always share the fun and get a partner in crime to help – who’s to say health isn’t sexy?  Just don’t get distracted…I’m not overstating it when I say this really can be a matter of life and death.

To all those who have trod the journey, who are treading it as I write, or who will one day find themselves facing this mighty challenge, my love and support is with you.  I know there are so many dangers facing these fragile bodies we live in, and this is just one of them.  Everyone face their own challenges, and for some of us, breast cancer will be one of the biggest out there.

Please learn from these women whom I have been blessed to know. Look after your beautiful selves.  Check yourselves out.  Often. Breast cancer is relatively uncommon in women under 40, but 400 young NZ women each year are affected – that’s not rare.

For more information, check out nzbcf.org.nz.  There are more signs you’ll want to watch out for than simply weird lumps.  Breasts are wonderful and womanly, in every shape and size.  They can get you out of parking tickets and into crowded clubs.  But with great power comes great responsibility, so don’t take them for granted.

And thus ends my lecture for the day.  It’s been a long one.  Hope you are a having a lovely weekend, and that along with Clean Sheet Sundays, you will also now instigate Get ‘Em Out and Check ‘Em Over Mondays or whatever works for you!


P.S. In case you were wondering about the random quasi-quoting from the start of this PSA, check out the 1990 video.  Spinderella, cut it up, one time  xxx


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