Breast Cancer Awareness Month

So my goal was to write every Wednesday.

I realize that today is Thursday.

In order for this post to make sense, I needed it to be October.

It is now October.

For those of you who don’t know, October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

Here are some quick facts courtesy of Breast Cancer Care, an amazing charity I ran with in the Edinburgh Marathon Festival in 2014:

  • Breast cancer is not one single disease – there are several types of breast cancer. It can be diagnosed at different stages and can grow at different rates. This means that people can have different treatments, depending on what will work best for them.
  • The lifetime risk of developing breast cancer is 1 in 8 in women
    This means that 1 in 8 women will develop breast cancer in their lifetime–it also means that 7 out of 8 women won’t develop breast cancer.
  • Estimated risk of developing breast cancer according to age
    Risk up to age 29, 1 in 2,000.
    Risk up to age 39, 1 in 215.
    Risk up to age 49, 1 in 50.
    Risk up to age 59, 1 in 22.
    Risk up to age 69, 1 in 13.
    Lifetime risk, 1 in 8.
  • Both women and men get breast cancer. Although it is much rarer than in women, men can get breast cancer too. Every year about 400 men are diagnosed.
  • Older people are more likely to get breast cancer than younger people. After gender (being female), age is the strongest risk factor for developing breast cancer – the older the person, the higher the risk. Around 81% of breast cancers occur in women over the age of 50.
  • Most cases of breast cancer don’t run in the family, most cases of breast cancer happen by chance. Only around 5% of breast cancers are caused by inheriting an altered (faulty) gene.

While dramatic improvements are being made in cancer research, treatment and early detection, and millions of women are surviving breast cancer today, there is still no cure.

Let me get personal.

Susan Norval was diagnosed with Breast Cancer almost two decades ago. For my family, our lives were changed. My aunt never, ever, let her sickness get the best of her, if anything, she shoved it to the side and always lived her best life. If you didn’t know her, you would never even know she was sick to begin with! Baseball games, baking, sleepovers, family reunions and adventures; she was always up for anything and loved being with those she loved most always. My aunt never married or had any children, so my cousins and I took on that role. She celebrated, she laughed, and she cherished us with everything in her and that is something that I cannot and will not let go of. She made us feel loved every single day.

She was 59 when the cancer spread. She went on vacation with my grandparents and everything happened so quickly but felt longest week of my life. Just, waiting. My dad and my Aunt Nancy went down to Hilton Head, South Carolina where they were, to all be together in the hospital. My wonderful aunt lost her battle in a matter of days, with no true warning, no time to plan. I’m so very thankful that the five of them got to be together one last time and in a place that has so much meaning and significance in my family’s life. Susan was a woman of tremendous faith and it was evident in all areas of her life. I find comfort in knowing she’s not sick anymore, not suffering, and she’s at peace.

It was May 19th, 2015.

That day, with a heavy heart I wrote “there aren’t words to accurately describe the way I feel. My Aunt Susan lost her 15 year battle with cancer today. She isn’t just an aunt that is seen once in awhile; she has been a second mother, an older sister, a friend, and the most important part of our lives. I have a hard time comprehending the fact that she won’t be around anymore. The most beautiful smile, and the most contagious laugh. I’m glad to have had 24 years of both.”

I can’t believe so much time has passed since that day.

You can love people so much, but you’ll never love them as much as you miss them.

I don’t think I’ve ever felt more grief than I had on the day of her funeral. I also felt grateful, in a way, seeing the church fill up and eventually become standing room only. There were so many people that she touched, so many people there to celebrate and treasure the memories of her.

There are moments of sadness. Times where I scroll through all of our old Facebook interactions, read text messages and letters she wrote. I have days where I feel like she’s still here and other days when it hits me so hard my heart literally hurts. On quiet nights I think of my grandparents, how nobody should ever have to say goodbye to their child, and I hope they continue to stay strong. I think of my dad and my aunt Nancy saying goodbye to their sister one last time. I think of my siblings too, praying that they are with me forever. I think of my mom and my uncle and how helpless they felt but thankful for the support and love they gave to us during that time. I think of my cousins, and feel lucky to be as close as we are. I think of holidays and family reunions and how everything is different from here on out. It’s not easy and I don’t think it will be for awhile. I think of how much my aunt inspired me to simply be me. She never questioned our choices, but stood by us and cheered us on. She had more faith in me than I’ve ever had in myself. I know she sees us, my family, and she’s watching over everyday.

“Grief is like the ocean. It comes in waves, ebbing and flowing. Sometimes the water is calm, and sometimes it is overwhelming. All we can do is learn to swim.” 

Cancer, impacted my life, and changed it. I feel I have  a true understanding and it’s given me empathy. Cancer is scary and can be unpredictable. There are so many affected by it and so many working to make it disappear. You may not realize it, but the people you see and interact with each day have a story. Each story is different, unique. More than likely someone in your life is affected by this disease.

This month, be aware. Take a moment to think of how you can make others aware, or how you can help. I just ask that you say a silent prayer or hold a happy thought for those who are surrounded by it all the time. Tell your family that you love them everyday. Tell your friends that you love them everyday. Hug a stranger. Make someone smile. Donate a dollar. Anything to show you care. Get the word out that we still don’t have a cure, but we are on our way.

Here are some sites to get you started:

http://ww5.komen.org

http://www.cancer.org/cancer/breastcancer/

How You Can Help – National Breast Cancer Foundation

Live Lokai

For those of you fighting, don’t ever give up hope. My story might show loss, but yours doesn’t have to. Stay strong and don’t ever feel afraid, just know that there are so many people rooting for you.

Remembering you is easy, I do it everyday, but missing you is a heartache that never goes away.

I’ll be forever missing you, my Charming Aunt Susan. 

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Wear your pink this month and continue to fight for a cure. I have hope that one day, we’ll get there.

Making people aware? So far, so good.

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