My sister sat down next to me the other day and said quietly, ‘I’ve been thinking, if you need to write a column about my breast cancer, you can. It may help people…’ We are nearly at the end of Breast Cancer Awareness month, and you’ll have seen the posters and adverts and articles. And perhaps you take it for granted that we talk about it so openly now, but it wasn’t always like that. People would literally whisper it in conversation. Women died for no reason other than we didn’t talk about it. But now we do, now it’s so much a part of our lives we check ourselves, we go for check-ups, we check on each other. We shout about it, we are pushy with doctors, we are careful, but sometimes, we are unlucky.
Breast cancer awareness means a lot to me. My mother was diagnosed with breast cancer 12 years ago, she got through it with chemotherapy and radiotherapy, and also by making a lot of noise.
My dad’s sister was diagnosed with breast cancer three years ago, she got through it with radiotherapy and quiet, dignified strength. What can I say, everybody’s different, noise-wise.
My sister was diagnosed before the summer. A routine check-up caught it. Imagine that. If she had ignored the letter, postponed, hesitated, forgotten, she would have gone for her next check up next year or the year after, and it might have been too late.
We have been through a lot as a family, but unsurprisingly, we get through it with humour. Sometimes when things seem really tragic, that’s when you have your best laughs. As my sister was going in for her surgery and we didn’t know what the outcome would be, we made very inappropriate, borderline hysterical monkey nipple jokes.
When my mum was having chemo, her hair fell out. We cried with her, but once I also put her wig on and sat at the dinner table, casual like, for 20 minutes before she noticed. Once she had to go to a fancy do at a fancy restaurant, and the waiters were whizzing around with their trays at exactly her head height. My dad said, ‘Careful they don’t whip off your wig,’ and she spent the rest of the evening holding onto the ends of it in a flirtatious manner to make sure it stayed on. We were crying with laughter. Happy tears definitely made an appearance too, despite the battle.
Anyway, my sister is OK now, but she wants me to tell you this, so that you take care of yourselves. I want to tell you this, because losing my sister would have torn the heart right out of me and I don’t want anybody to have to go through that. Check yourselves, get checked. Do it for her…