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Sunday, September 6, 2009

Exclusive Clubs

We all belong to many "clubs," those groups of people with whom we share similar interests. At the most basic level, although our experiences are all different, all of us are sons or daughters and belong to that particular club. At some point in their lives, women can, usually, carry on general interest conversations about topics common to our lives, even if they aren't topics we'd normally or naturally gravitate to, but we are capable, most of us, of superficial "club talk." Men have similar topics. Sure, not everyone belongs or is comfortable in these clubs, but most of us can hang out in the clubhouse, at least for brief periods.

There's the "work" clubs. Teachers, regardless of what and whom we teach, belong to a club. Parents belong to a club. Wives. Husbands. Mothers. Fathers.

And then there are the special interest clubs: nursing mothers, homeschooling mothers, foodie mothers, writer mothers, working mothers, stay at home mothers, adoptive mothers, home birthing mothers; elementary school teachers, high school teachers, foreign language teachers, composition teachers, honors teachers; allergy sufferers, mothers of allergy suffers; soccer mom/dad; musician; fans of the bath, shower fans; knitters, crocheters, sewers, crafters, scrap bookers...

But then there are the super-exclusive, private clubs. These are the clubs most people don't apply for and frequently aren't happy to find themselves members of.

I first realized how exclusive some of these clubs are when I joined the "Stillborn Baby" club back in '91. First, I'd never realized how many people had lost babies until that time, when it seemed that they were crawling out of the woodwork. Just about everyone I met told me about their loss or how someone they were close to had lost a baby. Furthermore, up until that point, I'd never realized how deeply significant such losses are. And to this day, I feel horribly for how I'd minimized such losses.

Then I got to join the "Second Stillborn Baby" executive committee of that club. Really, just being a regular member was good enough for me. Seriously. I still don't really appreciate that little invitation, and I don't know why fate accepted it for me. Yet, that was a long time ago, and I'm cool with being a member of this club now. In fact, at this point, I am rarely even aware of my membership. I notice on the birthdays (and since one of my living children shares a birthday with one of the dead and another of my living has a birthday 3 days after his dead sibling, it's not like those days got totally unnoticed), but it's all just part of life now. I guess it's sort of like being from Ohio...it's just something that is in my life. I might not have chosen it, but I'm not going to let it make my life miserable or waste time wishing it weren't at this point.

Obviously, the most recent club I've become a member of is "Club Cancer." It's a HUGE club, as we all know. Cancer is something that touches all of us. I would hazard that not a single one of you has not been touched in one way or another. Within the club, there are many special interest groups. You name it, there's a cancer for it. And a ribbon for it. (really? homeopathy awareness? seems a little unnecessary).

Obviously, some cancers are more common than others. For instance, .12/1 million people a year are diagnosed with cancer of the appendix. That's slightly more than 1/10 of a person per million people...so a whole person for every 10 million people. That's the equivalent of one person in all of Belgium. When it's you, the incidence is 100% and all consuming, but clearly appendix cancer is not something most of us should lose sleep over.

On the other hand, most of us probably have a skin cancer somewhere on our bodies. Non-melanoma skin cancer is the most commonly diagnosed cancer in both men and women. In women, the second most common type of cancer is breast cancer. In fact, in the US, 1 in 8 women will be diagnosed with breast cancer.

One, two, three, four, five, six, seven...shit.

As best I can tell (without actually doing math or reading something complex--so, kids, should you stumble across this blog, don't cite this as a reliable source), about 1 million cases of breast cancer go undiagnosed. Let's just say, most of us worry more about our kids being abducted (when in reality, there are very few non-family abductions...in 1999 about 58,000 , only 115 of which were stereotyical kidnappings in the United States).

Anyway, being a member of the "My Child Was Kidnapped" club would be very exclusive indeed.

However, being a member of the "My Boobs Have Betrayed Me" club isn't quite so exclusive, and, sadly, the club is growing daily, hourly. All of those of us with children are much more likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer than to have our children abducted. In fact, I'd say we really don't need to worry about our kids being kidnapped. Let the kid go to the park, ride her bike around the block, play outside after dark...but do your monthly self breast exam and get your annual mammogram, OK?

Last night, I attended a local social gathering of about 200 people. I know many have been touched by cancer because many have told me. At least three people told me about their experiences with breast cancer. One woman told me about her breast cancer experience and about her miscarriage.

Heck, by the time I got there, I'd just missed my breast cancer/chemo "mentor", who had gone home with her daughter before I got there. How much does that suck? There are so many of us that we can help each other? Yep, that's a good thing, but sheesh...We say things like, "My friend who is 8 months out..." without batting an eye. We share hats. Sure, it's better to not feel like you are alone. But really?

Like mold in Northwest Ohio, we are everywhere.

What are our secret codes? We talk about the wonders of Zofran. Our hair: hats? wigs? scarves? Shave it off, let it fall out, just buzz it? Miralax or Ducolax? Hot flashes vs. night sweats. Visualizations. Surgeries: lumpectomy? radical? double? Radiation? Cremes for burns? Reconstruction or prosthesis? Warrior or Survivor? Surgery first? Chemo first? Cocktail? Herceptin? Genetic tests? Estrogen receptor?

Let me tell you, this is NOT a club you want to belong to. It's a big one. It's a growing one. Breast Cancer is the Glam Can of the new millenium. If I have to have cancer, this is the one to have right now. Lots of research, lots of support, every day more and more women survive. I've told people I don't want to hear about anyone who has died from breast cancer (or any cancer, really), but most people are only aware, in recent years, of survivors. And that's a Good Thing (tm).

If the club has to be big, let's keep it big and living. But ideally, let's make it a tiny club. Let's make it equivalent to the Appendix Cancer Club. In fact, let's just make any Cancer Club a thing of the past, like White's Only Social Clubs...sure there are a few around, but most of us don't take them for granted nor do we approve.

I hereby decree, "Membership Closed."

2 comments:

hippiecoolchick said...

Oh Dawn, this is a powerful piece of writing. Thank you. I'm gonna have to agonize for a long time over the sentence about letting our kids be free to ride their bikes around the neighborhood but doing our monthly self-exam. Thanks for shaking my world, as you always do.

May I link to this piece on my facebook page, or more selectively? I'd really like folks to read it and think about it as I do. I'll do nothing till I hear from you. Thanks for considering it.

grilledcheesegoddess said...

Sure, link away. Normally, I'm pretty shy about my writing, but what the heck. It's a new life.