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Ten years! The day that marks a huge milestone in cancer survivorship is finally here...is finally mine. I did it!
Ten years ago I wondered if I would live to see the kindergarten bus come to get my daughters, then 1 and 4 at the time of my unexpected late stage 3 breast cancer diagnosis. Not only did I get to see kindergarten come and go, but now I have a freshman in high school and another starting junior high, and I'm completely out of the brutal wilderness of active treatment, no longer taking so much as a single prescription drug to stave off cancer's return. Ten years is the bar set by insurance actuarial tables that finally put someone like me back in the mix with the rest of the population, eligible for a life insurance policy and a statistically equivalent shot at living to a ripe old age. I'll take it!
The first five of those ten years were spent focused on intense slash, burn, and poison — surgery, radiation and chemo — and the next five years on entrepreneurial trial by fire as one of the four women owners of Handful, Inc. I am so proud to say I lived to tell about my trip to hell and back, how I found a way to make meaning out of suffering, and how today I get the privilege to help other breast cancer survivors who come after me answer the daily question, "how do I get dressed happy?" when cancer tries to rob you of certainty, hope, and self-esteem.
In these last ten years I have seen too many great friends and fellow survivors recur and pass away. I’m under no illusions that ten years under my belt gives me a permanent free pass. Heather, Nicole, Kira, and Janet were mothers, just like me, who did everything the doctors told them to do, just like me, but who did not get to celebrate nearly enough cancer free milestones and more importantly watch their children grow up. I celebrate today for those we will never forget. I have also experienced here at Handful, the cruel twist of statistical fate when the 1 in 8 women who will be diagnosed with breast cancer in their lifetime just so happen to be 3 out of the 24 women who work closest with us. Two of our sales reps and none other than our Director of Marketing, working tirelessly every day for a company that supports women with breast cancer…and then they get breast cancer!? It brings home just how prevalent this disease truly is and reminds us all that there will be many more among us who will face this same fate. We are here for you if the time ever comes for your number to be called, and we are counting on you to be there for the women in your circles to make sure you are there to support them because that’s what Handful women do. We support each other, no matter what life throws our way.
Ten years also holds tremendous significance for my daughters, both of whom were born into a family that ten years ago had zero history of breast cancer. Now I have to live with the knowledge that our powerful family history of breast cancer begins and most likely will not end with me. My girls and my future grandchildren will face vigilant screening in their early 20s because subsequent generations often face a diagnosis ten years earlier than the one that came before. As soon as they finish college, my girls will need to start thinking of their breasts differently, as potentially traitorous and prone to disease. That is not the legacy anyone hopes to pass on, but I am grateful that Handful gives me a way to deal with my own double breastlessness with positivity, just pick a color and get dressed happy, and encourages us all to put on a bra with a wink and a smile, instead of attending to a daily nuisance, whether breast cancer, gravity, weight loss, breastfeeding, or the sands of time are the cause of negative feelings about your chest. That’s a legacy I can get behind, reminding women every day to love themselves and the amazing bodies that carry them through life.