You can see from my blogroll on the right that I follow a large number of blogs, most of them Breast Cancer related. Keeping up to date with the diverse and rich postings might take time but never fails to move me. I am humbled and inspired, I laugh and cry, I am inspired and challenged. Through this I have “met” some phenomenal women (and a few men too, of course, but this domain is very much dominated by women). Everyone has a powerful story to tell and there is an incredible level of spirit, intellect, snark, feist and debate.
When I first started this blog, it was an outlet to help me process the extreme stuff I was being faced with, and focused mainly on the immediate. While I was in the thick of treatment in the months following diagnosis it formed a detailed account of diagnosis and treatment in my rather unusual setting. Blogging was a lifeline.
Over a year later and in a different space, when I step back and look at it, I find that the blog has a different character too. Now I find there are still some updates, but my ramblings are more reflective and often trying to make sense of life lived through the Breast Cancer lens. I find that many of my thoughts are inspired by the rich material there is in each other’s blog posts. I love the variety in our posts, in our approaches and styles, reflecting how different we all are and our experience is. I have special “thinking time” when I let my mind develop some of the thoughts which are stirred. I love to let my thoughts develop during my daily swim, though it is a bit difficult then to note down any nuggets which I really want to remember, so I find myself repeating and mentally refining these ideas as I plough up and down the pool, mixing ideas with the number of lengths swum. I also love that time after I put my book down at night and switch off the bedside light before I fall asleep for thinking creatively. That is also a challenge in terms of somehow recording these ideas as they often disappear into a dream world rather too quickly!
So recently, when I read about Terri’s Big Dream, my mind started firing with a barrage of random ideas and thoughts. Terri dreams, (which I believe means plans and will find a way of doing) of establishing a non-profit to help other cancer survivors volunteer internationally. A vey exciting project, and one which we will connect about to chat and perhaps brainstorm a bit.
My mind however, went careering off on its own “tandem” ( as I love to say 😉 ) It made me think of the very different experiences which women have, depending on where they happen to be. There can be quite a variation within countries, even where there are policies and guidelines such as the NICE guidelines in the UK. Living in Asia has given me an acute kind of better sweet cancer experience. I personally have had an incredibly sophisticated treatment and care plan, with state of the art medical facilities and practice, the latest medication and no waiting time for surgery and results.
Very many are not nearly so fortunate though. Facilities, diagnostics, pathology can be limited and medical specialists not easily accessible. The costs of care can be completely out of the reach of many. There but for the grace of God, go I indeed.
There is another aspect though which I find fascinating given the level of sophistication to the debate and dialogue regarding Breast Cancer demonstrating that many women are empowered and informed with regard to their treatment and care. I regularly stand in awe of many of my co-canceristas when I read complex analytical discussions, thought provoking and carefully researched posts, powerful personal accounts and challenging articles. There is a very strong Breast Cancer lobby driven by articulate, intelligent and dedicated people, passionate about the plethora of issues. There is a strong challenge to the pink marketing and lack of progress in research and debate. There is a drive to move beyond awareness raising and address the lack of research, particularly into metastatic cancer. This is critical, there is no question of it. Too many are affected by metastatic disease. Cancer is still stealing so many.
However, I would like to just stick my neck out a little, and share my thoughts about awareness raising from a different perspective.
After I was diagnosed, I returned to Yangon and buckled down for the long ride of treatment. I was blown away by the amount of support and help from friends and colleagues here. Then one day I received a phone call from a colleague. She was very upset about my diagnosis and wanted to send her love and prayers. It was incredibly touching, and bear in mind I had only been in this new job (and country) just over three months. Then she told me that everyone was really surprised that I had been diagnosed with breast cancer. Apparently, it is believed to be a “spinster” disease which only (or usually) affects women who have never married or had children here. I was totally taken aback and responded quite strongly. Many traditional beliefs have their origins in in a remote truth and I can kind of see where that might have roots, after all apparently having children at a younger age and breast feed your babies are seen to be factors which relate to reduced likelihood of developing breast cancer. But I was shocked that the belief was so strong and I immediately vowed to raise awareness as widely and appropriately as I could do in my local setting.
To me this is a reminder that there is and clear and pressing need for awareness raising in a number of contexts, and this is not limited to the example I have shared here.
Nor does this mean that the question of research and particularly understanding and treating metastasis should come later. It is not an “either/or” question. There is no doubt that there is an urgent need to shift emphasis in the more advanced contexts, while seeking contextually appropriate ways of raising awareness where this is clearly needed. My aim here is to convey the message that there is enormous diversity in levels of awareness and debate and I for one need to be reminded of that and the role I can play in it.
I am intrigued to hear how Terri’s big dream develops and while I know that the direction that my mind took does not reflect how the dream will come to life, it just shows how much we inspire each other in every sense.