My Disease Comes with a Marching Band

My Disease Comes with a Marching Band

A Lump in the Road column

Get ready, October is here, and everything will be pink, maybe even a marching band.

At local schools, football players will be wearing pink socks at the homecoming game.

My new hometown, Palm Desert, California, will “Paint El Paseo Pink” and our main thoroughfare will be decked out with balloons, ribbons, live music and fun treats.

Here, on one oversized Saturday in October, even dogs wear tutus. Grown men dye their hair fushia, and women drape themselves in costume jewelry and outrageous attire. Young and old, rich and poor, men and women, all races and creeds, we come together for a moment of unity around breast cancer.

It’s a time to remember those we love who have lost their lives to this disease, to support the ones fighting it now, and to hope that future generations can put this worry aside.

For a day, my disease becomes a party.

The good news is that my condition has captured the public’s attention. That means it gets resources to find treatments, cures, and support for patients and families. The bad news is, well, I have a disease so bad that it gets its own month.

The first year I participated in an October Breast Cancer event, I felt timid. I would have preferred to stay home, but it was important to my husband and daughter.

We made our way to downtown Lakeport in Northern California, and I was dumbfounded at the size of the crowd. My tiny rural community had put together an amazing display of effort and creativity, and I was deeply touched by how many people had spent time, money and energy to create an atmosphere almost electric with hopefulness. It took my breath away.

My daughter Lauren was delighted with the folderall, running from one booth to the next and bumping into everyone she knew. The Master of Ceremonies was “Miss Terrie,” our community’s most beloved preschool teacher, and she winked at my family as she took the stage. I stood in the back, feeling stares on my nearly bald head, and tried futilely to blend in.

Reluctant to go on stage, no marching band here

Baldness is cancer’s scarlet letter, the outward, unmistakable stamp on those of us in treatment, and some take it better than others. I never thought of myself as a girly-girl, but losing my hair was harder than I thought it would be.

Miss Terrie asked all cancer patients to assemble on the stage.

My husband nudged me; my daughter yanked my arm. But I stood stock still, my hand creeping to the tiny bit of hair just starting to grow. It was such an odd color, thick and coarse with the suggestion of a curl. This new hair promised a mind of its own, unlike the wimpy hair I had had all my life.

Until cancer, I was blond, my long straight hair flimsy as a newborn’s. No amount of persuasion could get it to curl, and on bad days, in the humidity of the Midwest where I grew up, it stuck to my head like a helmet.

Chemo had caused me to lose weight, but my body was bloated and puffy. Exhaustion showed on my face. Although I am generally not shy, the idea of being in front of a crowd at that moment filled me with dread.

Capitulating to the gleeful anticipation of my little girl, I tucked my black and grey spikes into my baseball cap and let her lead me to the front.

There I stood, side by side with women from all over my community, along with a few men, while a seemingly massive number of people offered prayers and support, a profound moment of healing I will never forget.

Later, my thoughts turned to my dad, who succumbed to Myasthenia Gravis, a rare degenerative disease, and my mom was suffering with Alzheimer’s. I thought of people with diseases I’ve never heard of, and others who endure horrific conditions to which the world seems indifferent. I wished they could all have a parade, that I could share my spotlight with them.

This year, I’m going to the celebrations feeling stronger. My bloating is gone, I’m not so exhausted, and I like my new hair. I’m grateful to be alive, and I don’t feel shy about saying so.

This month, breast cancer is the disease du jour, and for all the support, I say thank you.

Note: Breast Cancer News is strictly a news and information website about the disease. It does not provide medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This content is not intended to be a substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding a medical condition. Never disregard professional medical advice or delay in seeking it because of something you have read on this website. The opinions expressed in this column are not those of Breast Cancer News, or its parent company, BioNews Services, and are intended to spark discussion about issues pertaining to breast cancer.

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