My best friend shared this picture with me the other day -- I had not seen it in years -- and I found myself really drawn to the look in my eyes. (In case you didn't know, that's me in the middle) I remember feeling like I had finally arrived as an adult when I reached 30.
I'll tell you one thing though, I am surprised that I look pretty much the same after all these years. Well, the boobies are different and there are a few scars on my chest now that I didn't have before but mostly, I look the same. And I find that fascinating because I feel so "old" now. What I remember the most about this time in my life is that I was so worried about getting it right.
I felt that I was failing at life then. No matter what I did, I wanted to do it bigger, better, faster... I was really disappointed with myself. And sometimes (far more often than I'd like to admit) I still feel that way. Looking at this picture, I started thinking... what if I knew on that night, that about a decade later I would be diagnosed with breast cancer? That I would have to face the difficult task of electing to have a mastectomy, and going through chemotherapy... Would I have been a little more kind to myself? Would I have been more proactive with my health? Running a bit more, partying a bit less?
The interesting thing is that when I look at that picture, I see me but I don't really recognize myself. I am so vastly different inside and out now. In this picture, there is a sadness in my eyes that I just want to hug away because I had nothing to be sad about then. Just like I have nothing to be sad about now. Yes, I am a survivor and some days that feels like a huge weight. But the truth is that I am blessed.
If I could talk to my 30-year old self, I would tell her to relax a little. Take more walks. Breathe deeply. Try something new every week. Allow somebody to love you ... even if he's not perfect or doesn't match the vision in your head. And most importantly, check your breasts regularly. Yes, I really would tell myself to "feel on your boobies" because it is very important.
Back then, I felt that I had "Fabulous Boobies"... but I took them for granted. I didn't recognize that they were more than an accessory to be showcased. I was haphazard with my self-exams... like a lot of young women. Breast cancer is primarily a disease that happens to older women, so even though we may know that it is important we slack off. But I'm a witness that 3 minutes with your boobies, once a month makes a difference. Especially if you're a young woman of color. It matters.
What I didn't know at 30 is that women in their 20's and in their 30's do get breast cancer. No one ever told me that. What I didn't know is that when young women have breast cancer, they are more likely to die from it. What I didn't know is that breast cancer in young women is far more aggressive and difficult to treat than it is in older women. What I didn't know is that regular breast self-exams and a few lifestyle changes can actually make a difference. What I didn't know is that although young black women do not get breast cancer at the same rates as white women... when we do get breast cancer, it is more likely to kill us. It is more likely to be found very late stage. And the type of cancer that we tend to get is the most difficult to treat. I didn't know that at 30. But I learned it, when I was diagnosed with breast cancer at 39.
I never planned to have breast cancer. For all of the ways that this disease has changed my life in negative ways, it did one great thing. It showed me that I was far stronger and more capable than I ever imagined. And that all the happiness I was searching for out there... was never there at all. Its with me right now. See that smile? And that chick is a breast cancer survivor. :)
Pink ribbon girls rock!
Know your body. Trust yourself. And show yourself some kindness...