Most people know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. I'm a bit ashamed to admit this, but growing up I used to feel frustrated and perhaps even resentful that breast cancer got substantially more attention than other types of cancers (I had Hodgkin's Lymphoma twice as a kid). There are still many people I know in the cancer community who still feel that way and will vehemently disagree with how I currently feel, as my sentiments have very much evolved over the years. I welcome discussion about this topic because I feel it's extremely important, but I do ask that if you comment that you are mindful with your words. Anyhow, I now take the two following stances on this subject matter:
- I feel thankful that the breast cancer awareness campaign has been so successful. In part because that means more lives are being saved. But also because it gives people who want to campaign other types of cancers a successful model to learn from and/or emulate.
- I've learned that no matter the type of cancer, we are on the same team.
The second point struck home recently. Everyone, meet Lauren, the sister of my very best friend from JMU, Whitney Sims Smith!
I obviously met Lauren (and the rest of the Sims family who I love with my entire heart) back in college through Whitney. Both Whitney and Lauren helped support organizations that I was actively involved with and passionate about - Relay for Life, American Cancer Society, etc. Whitney and I used to try to plot for Lauren and Moose (my brother, who is Lauren's age) to fall in love and get married. But despite our creative attempts, Cupid had other plans as now Moose has a serious girlfriend, and Lauren is happily married.
Lauren and her husband moved to CA because of his job (military). They were settling down nicely, and had just gone on a vacation to Mexico where Lauren noticed a lump which ultimately led to a diagnosis of breast cancer two months later. I can't explain the pit in the stomach I felt when I found out... breast cancer was not something I associated with healthy 26 year olds, and certainly not something that could ever touch my "little sister". But cancer is a sick, cruel thing. It doesn't matter how great of a person you are, cancer has no regard for anything. I was devastated with the news, and I hate that she is having to go through this. But I've been doing my best to show my support for her, just as she (and her family) had done so for me in years past.
There are two things that stick out to me during Lauren's journey.
- Lauren has been not only brave enough to share her story with the world (via social media, and her blog), but she is using her story to help educate others that although uncommon, breast cancer can strike early.
- Her ability to smile during the most raw moments. When her hair started to fall out she decided to get it shaved, and she boldly decided to have the experience photographed. She has more photos on her website; and good luck looking at them without crying. However, these two are my favorite.
There is something to be said about a man who looks at his wife like this, during a moment like that. The strength in this couple possesses together really is a testament to what marriage is all about, and something I think we all should aspire to. They truly are living out their wedding vows.
And then this is a photo of a gorgeous 26 year old who was recently diagnosed with breast cancer. Who just had a surgery. Who was just starting chemo. Who just had her head shaved. Lauren, you are absolutely stunning.
Here's the thing. Cancer takes so much from people. It's absolutely sickening to think about, and it can be challenging to not dwell on those things. But when you focus on what cancer has no control over - your spirit, your attitude, and your ability to find the positives in a negative scenario... it's quite an empowering feeling.
I think that is what makes Lauren's story so inspirational. Through this entire course her spirit has been relentless, her attitude has been something to learn from, and her decision to be positive even in the most miserable of circumstances is remarkable. I'm so proud of this kid. And I'm proud to wear pink this month in honor of her, and those who have fought or are fighting a similar battle.