Breast Cancer Awareness Month

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Grief has a way of bringing life’s important moments into brilliant focus

Over the past years, Breast Cancer Awareness month has infuriated me.  Yep, you heard right… downright angry.  I often wonder: how can there be just ONE month dedicated to such a horrific illness like breast cancer?  And, are we supposed to ignore all the other terrible forms of cancer during this month?  Aren’t they all horrific, and “deserving” of research for a cure?  What about the thousands of people who are diagnosed everyday?  According to the National Cancer Institute, in 2018, nearly 2 million new cases of cancer have been diagnosed. That’s over 5,000 diagnoses every day.  Cancer is a curse that we all know by name, and virtually everyone’s life has been touched by it in some way.  This October, I want to share my story.   

 

My mom and I on my wedding day.  My dad’s cuff links are in my bouquet.

My mom and I on my wedding day. My dad’s cuff links are in my bouquet.

Nearly eight years ago, my father passed away, having lost his 6-month-long battle with lung cancer.  He was diagnosed in May of 2010, immediately following my college graduation.  He died on November 5th, 2010.  Mere weeks after his passing, my mother was diagnosed with breast cancer.  I was 21, and I was working hard to process the fury of emotions firing away at me, minute to minute, second to second.  I thought I needed to “carry on,” and start on my career path, following in the footsteps of my friends who didn’t have to celebrate their college graduations with hospice visits.  I was beyond bitter and it seemed like life was pummeling me while I was down. 

I had started a job in corporate and I was barely surviving.  I would call my mom on my walk to work every morning, countless times hanging up the phone in tears, traversing busy Manhattan streets, attempting to hide my crumpled face.  I just wanted to be by her side.  When I arrived at work, I would put on my smiling mask and lock up my breaking heart.  I never told anyone in the office, for fear of going to pieces.  In the evenings, the mask would fade, and it was safe for the tears to return – grief was lurking around every corner, in every crevice, in a song, on a street sign – literally anywhere.  I was suffering the loss of my father, and also facing the fear of losing my mom, too. I survived only due to my loved ones bearing witness to my grief.

Nearly eight years later, I am grateful to type these words: my mom did not become a statistic.  She is a survivor.  Yet, she is here without the love of her life, and she is changed.  I am changed, too.  Grief never disappears, and a loss is not something you just “get over.”  In fact, your loss becomes deeply woven into your fabric, and it takes hold of every single fiber.

In some ways, I have learned to be thankful for having experienced such loss.  Grief has a way of fading out life’s white noise, bringing the most important moments into brilliant focus. I have learned to look beneath the surface and to think about what might be occurring behind the scenes.  Loss knows many forms and many names, and it is absolutely paralyzing. 

Our “Go For Pink” gift box, filled to the brim with items evoking solace and love.

Our “Go For Pink” gift box, filled to the brim with items evoking solace and love.

I now know the true definition of compassion – and also what compassion is not…   

Compassion is not asking, “How can I help?” – it is just doing. 

Compassion is not saying, “You’ll be okay” – it is, “I am here for you.”

Compassion is not, “Stay strong” – it is, “Lean on me.”

During my mom’s hospital stay, I brought her the most comforting and feminine items I could think of.  I designed the “Go For Pink” gift box, in partnership with the Breast Cancer Alliance, with many of these items in mind, for those who are bearing witness to the grief or struggle of a loved one.  When words can’t say it, actions do. 

Years have gone by, and I can now (calmly) appreciate the importance of Breast Cancer Awareness month.  So, yes – October is Breast Cancer Awareness month.  But all kinds of cancer, loss, and grief happen every month, every day, every moment.  Don’t ask – just do. 

 

A portion of all proceeds from our “Go For Pink” gift box will be donated directly to the Breast Cancer Alliance. 

Nicole Rizzo