Wednesday Bubble: Breast cancer – it’s personal

Posted by on Oct 28, 2009 in breast cancer | 10 comments

liz alice mark 20001

I don’t typically get too personal on Flashfree because this blog is a resource for you, dear readers. However, I want to leave October’s Wednesday Bubble posts with something a bit closer to the bone and heart: breast cancer.

Location: Department Store dressing room stall. Circa: late 1960s, early 1970s.

The characters: Me and my mom.

Scene: She is covering herself as she removes her shirt. I notice the scars. Lots of scars….to the side of one breast. I meet her eyes and she meets mine. Then I learn what the term ‘ breast cancer’ means.

My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer when she was 30. Thirty. Even today, less than half of women under the age of 40 are likely to develop breast cancer and the majority of cases are diagnosed after the age of 50. So, imagine the shock. What’s more, imagine the time. The 1950s… when breast cancer awareness wasn’t at the fore and people didn’t discuss it, when breasts and surrounding muscle were literally hacked off rather than carefully removing the tumor with clean margins, when many men left their wives after they became disfigured.

My dad didn’t leave. And my brother learned about it through a ‘friend’ in school who was teasing him.

I’ve spoken to my mother about her cancer, about the fear of it returning (it has not, thank goodness), and about how she feels about not being able to wear sleeveless tops or strengthen/firm those muscles even though she has exercised regularly her entire life. How she felt when my brother came home from school and asked her about it. How she feels now when a friend is diagnosed with cancer. Her answer is always pretty much the same.

I don’t know anyone who has not been touched by breast cancer. Not. One. Person.

In the past year, I’ve had two friends who’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer, not for the first but second time. Like most of you, I am regularly inspired by the women in my life who are first or second-time survivors, just as I am moved by those who’ve lost their battles but not without a fight.

Breasts. For whatever reason, they are such an integral part of who we are as women and how we define ourselves in relation to the world around us. And yet, we continue to be plagued by this cancer and its effects on our health, our families and the world around us. Despite advances in research and awareness, we’re not even close to winning this battle:

  • Worldwide, every 30 seconds a woman is diagnosed with breast cancer
  • Every 90 seconds, a woman loses her fight to it
  • In 2007, almost half of all women had mastectomies compared to only 7% who had breast reconstruction

Can’t we do better?

It’s hard to imagine that in my mother’s lifetime, the likelihood of finding a cure is, well, unlikely.

This one’s close to the bone. It’s close to my heart. It’s personal.


  1. 10-28-2009

    Thanks for sharing Liz. I think personal experience can be v.relevant for the reader — especially about intimate views into issues we’ve faced — or have not yet faced. There is breast cancer in my extended family and the fact I know nothing about it is linked to our inability to talk about it. So thanks again.

  2. 10-28-2009

    Thank you Anastasia. I struggled with myself over whether or not to share these intimate details but obviously, sharing won out. The more we talk about it, perhaps the closer we’ll come to a cure.

  3. 10-28-2009

    Thank you for this post….that moment in the dressing room is very moving. I can’t imagine what it was like to have breast cancer 40 years ago. My Mother’s eye disease (corneal dystrophy) and my Dad’s dental problems made me religious about annual eye exams and dental care…

    Did your mother’s experience influence your health practices as an adult?

    • 10-28-2009

      Lori – that’s an interesting question. I think that my mother’s experiences have influenced my passionate interest in women’s health rather than my health practices. As you know, I’ve always been very active and have eaten healthy – those values were instilled in me at a very young age. However, because of my mother’s cancer, I did quit smoking at age 30 and have gotten annual mammograms since that time as well. So I guess, in some respects, it did.

  4. 10-28-2009

    Thank you for sharing this. Through her misfortune I am sure your mother has been a model of bravery to you. Your father, a model of understanding a vow.
    As Anastasia said, sharing from personal experience does make the issue more relevant. I am sure it has impacted your health care decisions and by sharing, you can impact others. Thanks again.

    • 10-28-2009

      Thank you for reading and for commenting Emma! The fact my mother has lived through this and that my father did the right thing both have impacted my life greatly. I think it’s critical that we learn from the past so that we can influence the future. This experience truly paved the way for some of the work I do now.

  5. 10-28-2009

    What a heartfelt post. Hard to imagine the fear and isolation of a breast cancer diagnosis in those times. This comes on the day that my own mom was just released from the oncologist after hitting her 7 year survivor mark.

    Here’s to the moms!

    • 10-28-2009

      Wow. That’s a milestone! My warmest wishes to her and to you BBFF as always.

  6. 10-28-2009

    Great post. We can and should do better. I feel fortunate to have people in my life (and clients) who are trying to make a difference and to find a cure. I can only hope….

    • 10-29-2009

      Thanks Wendy. We can only hope for sure, that some avenue leads to something big and real. In the meantime, kudos to awareness and movement towards positive change.


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