Wednesday, September 26, 2012

Hope Floats

As a breast cancer patient and now survivor, I was inundated with a variety of words, symbols and phrases. 'Stay positive' and 'It's only hair' were very common phrases and the pink ribbon symbol was just about every where (including places like the shrink wrap packaging on mushrooms, K-cups for Keurig coffee machines, and umbrellas -to name a few). A word that kept coming up was the word 'hope'. I've seen this word written in every colour but most popularly pink, tattooed, and with letters substituted with the pink ribbon. I have said in previous posts that the words 'cancer' and 'mastectomy' were only words before my diagnosis and now they carry meaning and substance and somehow, I seem to feel a little bit of the opposite towards the word 'hope'.

Before my diagnosis, having had family members experience it, I considered myself well versed in cancer (I mean in comparison to what I know now, I knew NOTHING) and a mastectomy was a surgery that women get when they have breast cancer, I had no emotion attached to the word, it was just a procedure - those were simpler times. I knew what I needed to know about those two words. Hope on the other hand, I was a pro at hope, I could explain it, give examples from my life, I had experienced hope and wished hope onto others. Hope was easy. Well, hope was easy until I had cancer then hope went away. I couldn't rely on hope because I had cancer. I had to rely on doctors, on chemo, or family and on myself. Hope took a back seat and to be honest, I thought she jumped out of the car somewhere between My New Normal and Cancer Limbo.

Hope used to be (pre-diagnosis) positive, achievable, gave me strength and provided some sense of motivation. Now, I feel like it's breast cancer's word, it is used on shopping bags, on t-shirts, and bandannas and has become such a part of pink ribbon consumerism that I think it has lost its luster. To me, hope isn't what got me through breast cancer; positivity, strength, motivation, courage, vulnerability, they got me through breast cancer. To be honest, I don't feel like I have felt 'hope' since my diagnosis, not in a negative way, it's just not something that I have been able to capture or feel. This may sound really childish, but hope is magical to me, it's something you have to believe in and it's not always easy to see.

I have gotten used to saying things like 'I hope it doesn't rain tomorrow' or 'I hope my car doesn't blow up on the way to work tonight'. I feel like I started to use 'hope' in cases where I had no control of the outcome and although cancer can be a helpless situation, I just never hoped that I would survive breast cancer because whether cancer liked it or not, I was taking control of the outcome.

After living in a 'hope-less' world since my diagnosis, the other day, with only two little words, I was given hope.

I am on a committee for young women with breast cancer. We meet once a month and connect in a way that others wouldn't understand. We all miss our nipple(s), short hair is a prerequisite, and if you have two natural breasts, you're not welcome. We get it because we've been there. Anyway, each time we meet, we have an organized activity or speaker and then get to socialize afterwards. It's such a fantastic group to be a part of.

So on Sunday night, I was setting up the sign-in table and one of the other committee members (who had gone through eight chemo treatments in 2009) made some comment about her shirt not fitting properly [insert hope here] because, she said, "I'm pregnant." First Try! No Fertility Help! Good Old Fashion Sex=Pregnant! I had goosebumps (and do again as I write the word 'goosebumps'). I wanted to say 'What about the struggles? What about the 40% chance? What about the... and the ....?' In my heart, I felt hope.

I struggle with 'faith' (not religion but faith) and unfortunately I sometimes cling to stats and what can be proven. I'm one for achieving in the 90th percentile of everything (math tests, English assignments, height) and a 40% chance of me being able to have a baby isn't exactly what I call 'cohesive with my plans'. When I see a baby bump in front of me, on a girl who was supposed to struggle, who was supposed to have to seek help and only get pregnant by a miracle, it gives me hope. According to a 2011 study, I had a 1 in 383142 chance of getting breast cancer at my age and I did so a 2 in 5 chance of having a baby should be a breeze. Those two little words 'I'm pregnant' put everything into perspective again.


  1. What a beautiful entry, Katie. One of your best, in my opinion!