Be kind; for everyone you meet is fighting a hard battle. ——- Plato
Yesterday I ran into a woman I know casually. We exchanged hellos briefly and she asked how I was. “Great”, I said, the way you do in polite conversation. I asked how she was, also the way you’re supposed to do. She didn’t say “fine”, or any of the polite answers you usually get from one of these encounters with someone you barely know.
“Not so well.” she said.
Now I looked at her the way you don’t usually look at people you run into on the street.
She was smiling bravely, a little ruefully. But it’s in the eyes. Behind the eyes. In them I could see something I knew well, something in her soul that she couldn’t mask with her smile: the fear.
“I have breast cancer”, she said. And suddenly the pain poured out.
The specifics of her situation aren’t pertinent. But they matter —-to her, to everyone she loves, to everyone who loves her—- because her life is in the process of being turned upside down. She’s embarking on a journey that literally is changing the ground under her feet. She will never walk on the same path she walked before.
The good news: she’s not walking alone.
There are support groups and foundations and and blogs and organizations and action groups and people who are there to help her every step of the way.
The bad news: also that she’s not walking alone.
Every day more women find themselves in her shoes, facing the same diagnosis; every day more women are ripping apart their lives—and every day, more women are losing them.
Probably I hear these stories more often than most people. And each time I’m struck with the fact that breast cancer has reached epidemic proportions.
I used to think it just seems that way because I’m a survivor and I’m so involved. Unfortunately I’m not imagining it.
30 years ago, way before my own diagnosis, I did a television documentary on breast cancer. At the time, one in 12 women would get breast cancer in her lifetime.
Today that number is one in 8.
In 1975, a 50 year old white woman had a 1% chance to get breast cancer.
Today, for the same woman, the chance is 12%.
Those numbers are shocking—–and clear. And can’t be explained solely by early detection.
Scientists believe they are finding the explanation in some unusual places. Such as—-the kitchen. If you haven’t read it, I highly recommend this column by Nicholas Kristof of the New York Times.