The truth of the matter is that I’m an anxious person, and my anxiety manifests itself in various ways — some comical and others not as much.
For example, I’m a bit of a hypochondriac. If I happen to be in front of my computer when someone on Good Morning America is describing the disease du jour — from West Nile virus to celiac disease, I always fire up Google to make sure I’m not exhibiting any of the symptoms. I haven’t slept in complete darkness since I was in the fourth grade (unless I’m not the only person in the room), which is when I discovered scary movies. And I am an avoidance perfectionist, which essentially means that I sometimes avoid starting on a task because I’m scared that the end result won’t be all that good. (Some call this procrastination, but I like to keep it complex.) Deep, huh?
As I’ve gotten older, though, my anxiety seems to be loosening its grip on me. So far a random mosquito bite or a bite of bread, for instance, hasn’t killed me. The bogeyman hasn’t scooped up me from my bed as I slept. And slowly but surely, I’m discovering that “not perfect” is sometimes just fine.
But no matter how I spin it, the truth of the matter is breast cancer is a scary disease, and not just in and of itself. It’s also scary that, according to recent studies, one in eight women in the United States will develop invasive breast cancer over the course of her lifetime. This is not a random condition that fits into a singular episode of a morning news program. It is not some phantom that disappears in the light of day. Breast cancer cannot be avoided, even if you try. It’s a bomb whose blast will eventually be felt in our lives, or in the lives of people we know.
In the course of my 38 years, I can recall many brave women who have had to battle with this ugly disease. I recall a woman at my church who was diagnosed with breast cancer when I was a little girl. I remember her saying she just wanted to live long enough to raise her children, who were close to my age. Her breast cancer eventually went into remission. I found it courageous yet tragic that this woman was able to raise her children before ultimately succumbing to the cancer after her kids reached adulthood.
I remember the editor of a small community newspaper I worked for after college. A former member of the U.S. Army, this tall woman intimidated me with her “take no stuff” orders and her “colorful” language. When she was diagnosed with breast cancer, she took it on in the same way she managed the newsroom: with courage and a determination to do it her way in spite of what others thought or said. She shunned traditional cancer treatments for a while because of the side effects and searched for alternative options. Although she eventually lost her battle with the disease years later, I was encouraged when I learned at her funeral that my former, irreverent editor had become a Christian. Before her death, she had faithfully attended and became an active member of a little Baptist church in the country.
Despite knowing these women, the prevalence of breast cancer did not truly enter my consciousness until I discovered that one of my Delta Sigma Theta Sorority line sisters was diagnosed with breast cancer when we were in our late 20s. I mistakenly thought only older women got breast cancer. I was shocked when the disease took her life in 2005.
I cannot pretend to know why God allowed these and other women who have suffered from breast cancer to die. But I am determined, particularly as this month is National Breast Cancer Awareness Month, to remember these and other brave souls who passed away and honor those who are surviving.
Another one of my Delta Sigma Theta Sorority line sisters, Lola Brown, is one of those survivors. She is a two-time breast cancer survivor, though she is not even 40 years old yet. She says battling breast cancer has enabled her to develop a personal relationship with God that might not have happened otherwise. Her testimony is featured in my upcoming book, After the Altar Call: The Sisters’ Guide to Developing a Personal Relationship With God. For me, Lola’s experience puts a human face on another troubling statistic: black women have a higher incidence rate of breast cancer before age 40 and are more likely to die from the disease at every age, according to the American Cancer Society.
As I noted earlier, my tendency is to avoid anything that scares me, and sometimes my anxiety leads me to inaction. But since I am a woman, I cannot ignore breast cancer — though I’d certainly like to. I have to make sure I conduct monthly self-examinations, visit my doctor for annual examinations, and live a healthy lifestyle. More than anything, I have to take my anxiety to the Lord while praying for a cure.
For more information, visit the website for National Breast Cancer Awareness Month.