The Ace of Human


October is breast cancer awareness month. Today, my PEMCO colleages gathered for an hour long program that we call @PEMCO Live. As part of the program, I was asked to talk about the reason we chose to support the Lee Denin Day fight against breast cancer. I was asked to share the story from a man's perspective. It was tougher than I thought it would be, but I was proud to stand up and speak out against a disease that hits to many of our family members... a dissease that has come inside our home. These were my remarks:

One in eight women will have breast cancer within their lifetime. There are 100 new cases diagnosed each week in Washington State alone! Some, those that are the most fortunate of that group, will go into remission. Some are described as having no further evidence of disease. And some will die with it… but not of it. They are the breast cancer survivor’s – the lucky ones.

It's hard to talk about being a breast cancer survivor, because there is still no definitive cure. But one day there will be. Until there is, it’s important that we each find a way to – in my words – “play the ace of human.” It’s the play that trumps depression, sadness, worry, and fatigue. You see, the ace of human is love.

Clearly, I’m not a breast cancer survivor. At least not the way most of us would think of one.

I don’t have firsthand experience about the recommended monthly self-examinations, the annual mammograms, the nervous waiting, the call-backs, the needle-biopsies, the MRI’s, or the ultra-sounds. I haven’t considered the choices between a lumpectomy and the accompanying need for radiation or chemotherapy treatments, versus a single or double mastectomy where I choose to give up a part of my body.

I haven’t made decisions about whether to take a post-recovery drug that lowers my odds of breast cancer recurring but increases the likelihood of contracting uterine cancer or dying without warning due to a 1 in 1000 chance of experiencing a fatal stroke. I haven’t wondered if people would look at me differently and I haven’t had to consider a reconstructive surgeon’s opinion that there is a 50-60% chance that my reconstruction could go horribly wrong.

I haven’t done any of those things. But my wife has done them all.

Cancer Ribbon on BlkIt was on Tuesday, February 7th. I was here at work and Cindy was at her doctor’s appointment after her second mammogram in as many months. The first wasn’t clear enough and something suspicious had been detected.

It was mid-afternoon before I noticed that I’d received a text message earlier in the day. It was short and to the point. The core of the message said…

Not quite the results I was hoping for. Don't call me yet, I'm still processing the information. Biopsy on Thursday."

It’s been eight months since that day in February and a lot has happened.

For Cindy all the aforementioned tests and decisions culminated in a bilateral mastectomy. During the surgery a small number of enlarged lymph nodes were removed and tested for indications of breast cancer. The good news is that that the nodes were free of breast cancer.

The bad news is that yet another form of cancer – non-Hodgkin lymphoma – was found. No one ever said that the fight with cancer would be fair.

For me, the day that I received that text message was the day that my priorities in life became instantly clear. I learned that it’s much harder to decide what to make important when things are going good than it is when life throws someone you care about an unexpected curve.

And for us – well we became even more of a team. We attended every appointment, consultation, and procedure together. We discussed every decision… and we considered all the options together.

We were surprised by the outpouring of support from our friends and acknowledged that the thoughtfulness and genuine concern that was shown to us by others truly made a difference.

Today, I’m here to invite you to stand up to breast cancer.

   If you or your wife have been personally touched by breast cancer please stand up.

   If your mother, daughter, or grandmother has had breast cancer please stand up.

   If your sister or aunt has had breast cancer please stand up.

   If you have a niece or a cousin who has battled breast cancer please stand up.

   If you’ve had a close friend or neighbor who fought breast cancer please stand up.

   If there’s someone you know that has encountered breast cancer, please stand up.

According to the National Cancer Institute – and I quote here - "An individual is considered a cancer survivor from the time of diagnosis, through the balance of his or her life. Family members, friends, and caregivers are also impacted by the survivorship experience and are therefore included.”

You don’t fight breast cancer with a pink ribbon alone; you fight it with a team. You are all included in the survivorship experience. Thanks for standing up for the fight against breast cancer.

Thanks for being part of the team and for “Playing the Ace of Human” by sharing what’s in your heart.

Your comments, suggestions, and stories of your personal edge are always welcome in my guest book.

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The Fine Print

Rod Brooks (that's me) is VP & CMO of PEMCO Mutual Insurance Company and serves as Immediate Past Chair of the Board of Directors for the Word of Mouth Marketing Association (WOMMA).  It's important to disclose both of those relationships and to be clear that this is my personal blog where I share thoughts and opinions that are solely my own.  Contact me!

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