Clutter in the attic.
Wisely, I took two weeks off work during the beginning of Pinktober. This allowed me to post, comment, and hopefully help push the dialogue about genuine breast cancer awareness during the much-dreaded month of pointless pinksploitation. Highlights included promoting the efforts of Met Up, featuring the Die-In that took place in Washington, D.C., and the legislative agenda promoted by its organizers.
Then, about halfway through Pinktober, the American Cancer Society released its new screening mammogram guidelines. Basically, the ACS was perhaps hoping to deliver clarity and options, but instead delivered confusion. A few valiant journalist friends attempted to sort it out, including Diane Mapes and Elaine Schattner. By the end of the month, I was so sick of the whole subject, I added my own parody post about it.
Shortly thereafter, my stamina about ran out. I was back to work, trying to help my patients, including those with metastatic cancer, while a number of my cyber-sisters with metastatic breast cancer were experiencing crises of their own. As November progressed, I found I’d survived Pinktober, but a few of my dearest friends were increasingly at risk for not surviving at all. My heart got a thrashing.
As two of these friends were moved into hospice care, I found myself both dreading to log onto social media for updates about them, and checking for updates about a million times a day. I know I don’t have to point out to most readers how profoundly we can connect online with our breast cancer sisters and brothers, and how much we end up loving them, even if we’ve never met them in person. At this moment, I don’t know what’s worse, feeling helpless about the suffering my friends are enduring while I am too far away even to hug them, or dreading the grief I know I will feel if and when I lose them.
All I can say is that, during recent weeks, I have experienced a level of shock comparable to how I felt when I was first diagnosed with cancer myself. My emotional priorities shrunk. I became absentminded about the pedestrian details of daily life, like where I left my cellphone, and whether I had enough clean laundry. Then there were the stories of terrorist slaughter in Beirut and Paris, not to mention the constant barrage of wretched news stories about political idiocy and violence and the U.S. I think anyone might be forgiven for experiencing a meltdown.
“So don’t mind if I fall apart. There’s more room in a broken heart. And I believe in love.” ~ Carly Simon
Love and peace.
Sometimes you can be too aware. Sometimes, you’ve just got to limit your exposure to the full freight of awareness. You’ve got to accept the fact that you can’t read and comment on every blog post or tweet or Facebook post about breast cancer, and not let yourself feel guilty about it. Sometimes, you’ve got to pick and choose your emotional priorities and recognize your limitations. Sometimes, you’ve got to admit that being a member of this miserable club can set you up for awareness fatigue. Sometimes, you have to sit with the consequences of how personal your own awareness is so that you can get off the couch and cope. It does no one any good to feel paralyzed.
Let’s face it. I’ve been writing this blog for nearly seven years now, and it would not be a stretch to say that nearly every post I’ve written has been devoted to breast cancer awareness of one sort or another. I’m grateful that some of my blog sisters still have the wherewithal to continue raising the awareness bar with clarity and some well-placed righteous snark, because I’m flummoxed and tired. My snark is currently busted. Checking on my friends in crisis and letting them know how much I love them is about all the awareness I can handle.
It’s interesting, though, how crises and sorrow can remind us of what’s important, what’s ultimately central to our lives, especially in this season. Loving my friends and making room for peace, that works for me.