A political science professor, a shower placard and a story saved my life
I've told the story about how I discovered my breast cancer by giving myself a breast self-exam one day as a distraction many times, and I'm sure to share it many more. It is one more story in this vast world about breast cancer.
Sometimes I mention that I had gotten into the habit of doing BSEs from my favorite college professor. She was a breast cancer survivor and she shared her stories about her journey with breast cancer with me and my classmates often. At this small women's college, where classes in my major rarely had more than 10 students... there was an intimacy among us that I had never experienced in a classroom setting before. That intimacy was, for me, like a rain shower on parched earth. It brought so much of who I am today to life.
My MVC memories
Dr. Maureen Casamayou was my political science professor at Mount Vernon College. She was the first woman I had ever spoken to directly about breast cancer in a personal way. I was a young woman in my early 20's when she brought this topic to my life. I had absolutely no concerns whatsoever about breast cancer. I thought it was something that happened to "old" people. Of course, in your 20's... everybody in the world seems old to you. Dr. Casamayou was older than me, very accomplished, very smart and full of life though. She wasn't "old"... just older. Didn't seem like the women I associated with being sick. She seemed to personify elegance and intellect and independence. I loved her for that. I also loved her because she was a professor who did not give up on her students. She did not let us slide by... or slip away. She saw potential and opportunity in each of us. And she spoke that life into us in each class, with each assignment.
Mount Vernon College was a magical place for me. Dr. Casamayou was integral in making it so. It would take too long to try to explain who I was before I arrived at Mount Vernon but I can tell you that the young woman who left that campus was confident, capable and ready to take on the world. A lot of that is due to a feisty professor who challenged me to be great, to write well, to be unafraid and unashamed to know or not know something. The freedom to be smart without judgement or name-calling was a tremendous blessing. The freedom to not be the smartest one in the room was too.
She taught me to own my story unapologetically
It deeply saddened me to learn that my pink ribbon sister passed away earlier this month. On my mental list of things to do, I had hoped to talk to her one more time and share with her how much she impacted my life and how often I think about the day she talked with a bunch of young female college students and told us how important checking our breasts was. How important that it was that we start checking them early so that we knew what our breasts felt like. She told us to get comfortable with our bodies and she gave us all shower placards that demonstrated the steps to conducting a BSE.
I still have my shower placard today. It hangs in my shower at all times. I think of her whenever I notice it. The irony of life is that the radiology center that created the shower placard she gave me years ago, was the same center I used when I had my first mammogram after finding my lump and the same center where I had my first sonogram where I saw the tumors in my breast for the first time. Sometimes life will bring you full circle. [Read: And then there was Freddie... ]
There is power in the story
In discussing her passing with my boyfriend, I was weeping at the loss and mentally chastising myself for not pushing harder to find her after I was diagnosed. I felt like I let her down. I really wanted her to know that she saved my life. Her story saved my life.
That wonderful boyfriend of mine told me that he was proud of me because I had taken the gift she gave me and had chosen to pay it forward. Her story saved my life because she was unafraid to share it. She gave it to me, to all of us, and I am so grateful. And now I realize that I too have been paying it forward because there is a gift of life in the story.
Paying it forward
I have no way of knowing whether or not anyone who reads this blog will ever be diagnosed with breast cancer or have to cope with a loved one with breast cancer. I believe that clearly understanding that breast cancer is real, and that it strikes women of all ages, races and socio-economic backgrounds moves the mindset that breast cancer happens to "them"... to breast cancer could happen to me.
Thank you Dr. Casamayou. The gift of your story and your concern for my health, long before I ever realized it would be important, have blessed me tremendously. Because of you, I pay it forward and give my story to others.
Thank you. I hope that I make you proud.
See: Obituary of Dr. Maureen A. Casamayou