The essay below was written by my niece Jess, her birthday is next week so post this now seems perfect. She is smart, beautiful and very sarcastic I have no idea where she gets it from. After reading this essay I realize she is a talented writer, wow. The moment her mother found out she was pregnant with her I was the first to know, I feel like that instantly connected us. She has told me her secrets and I have told her mine. I have laughed at her ability to fall in the middle of the floor over nothing and she is always there when I need her regardless of how many times I smack her. Jess and I are very close, I always knew that until I read this I never realized how close. Jess wrote this about my DX and shared it with me, I am left speechless. Which is perfect because she told me I could only share it if I did say anything. What could I possibly say?? Jess is always real that is what I love about her, that is what makes me proud just like this writing piece. Here are the words of a then 18 year and how the aunt who they love, trust and need is effected by breast cancer. Read the entire piece please...
Surrounded by a group of loud women with low cut pink shirts on with a table overflowing with appetizers, I barely hear an older woman ask my aunt what the occasion was. Luckily I was across from my aunt and watched the expression I know so well come across her face. My aunt turned to the women and said, “I have breast cancer and we’re throwing my boobs a farewell party!” I was not surprised at all with my aunt’s very honest response but the woman definitely was taken aback. Luckily she walked away before the waiter brought out a cake in the shape of two boobs or she would’ve had a really interesting reaction. We got some very strange looks as my aunt decided to demonstrate what the doctors were going to do to her by making incisions to divide up the red velvet cake for everyone. That was my aunt, loud, hilarious, and very open.
Three months earlier, I remember standing next to my brother while my dad told us that my aunt was diagnosed with breast cancer. As he explained that she found the lump and went to the doctor, who decided she needed a lumpectomy, I saw the worry and hurt in his face. I understood where his emotions were coming from since it was his baby sister that he had taken care of since he was only ten years old, but I didn’t really share his worry. Of course I was shocked that breast cancer decided to attack my aunt but at the same time I had no doubt that she would beat it. To an outsider this would seem strange but this woman can deal with a huge Italian family, keep her four young boys in check, and organize the largest Race For The Cure team for years. My aunt had always exemplified confidence that I tried to have myself but could never really find a way to. Unlike her, I had always been one of the quiet ones of my family who observed all the chaos more than joining in. I knew that even though she was going to get through this with that same confidence and courage, I wanted to let her know that for once she could be the one to lean on me.
So, after I heard about the whole situation I knew I should call my aunt or go visit her, but I had no idea what to say. I’ve never been faced with this type of situation so I felt really uncomfortable. Although I felt like telling her that I loved her and all the times she helped me with everything, from problems with my divorced parents to fashion advice, meant so much to me, I knew that didn’t really fit her. So instead I texted her something I figured she’d say to me if the situation was reversed, “I’m sorry about your boobs but if you get chemo I’m not shaving my head for you so you better beat it!” Her response I don’t exactly remember but I can assume it contained some sarcastic remark and a few swear words thrown in there too. That may seem pretty weird but that’s how she shows her love and gratefulness; sentiment was never really her thing.
As the weeks progressed I kept in touch with her through visits and more sarcastic texts. I was updated on everything mostly through my family and my aunt’s online blog, “Stupid Dumb Breast Cancer” which by now has been awarded National Best Blog. Here anyone could read about her doctor appointments, rants about how much cancer sucks, and pictures throughout her journey. She found a way to extend her confidence beyond herself and to a whole nation of women, yet I couldn’t even introduce myself to a stranger without someone I knew being by my side. As I focused so much on my shyness or insecurities, she was giving so little attention to herself to help other women find their confidence. She didn’t hide anything in these posts and pictures to show these women, in a brutally honest way, they were not alone.
The first day I saw these pictures was actually the first time I saw my aunt after her double mastectomy. I walked in and saw her sitting there. My aunt may be at best five feet tall but her personality made up for the rest. This was the first time I can say she looked so fragile. She had tubes coming out everywhere with red and yellowish liquids flowing out of her. She greeted me in her usual sarcastic way but her loud Italian voice was so diminished. After I sat down uncomfortably on the couch, I tried to act like it was just one of my normal visits. After we talked a little I was starting to see that nothing had changed and we could still have our normal conversations or venting sessions. Then, she asked if I wanted to see the pictures.
If I thought I was getting over my nervousness, it all came back. My aunt’s good friend had been taking these pictures from the doctor appointments, before her surgery, and after her surgery. My aunt asked her friend to take these pictures to show the uncensored parts of breast cancer so when she asked if I wanted to see them I had no idea what to expect. I agreed and got her laptop for her and she pulled up the pictures. The first few were from her surgery. The first picture showed my aunt lying in a hospital bed with a gown on and glittery pink four-inch heels. The ones following showed her walking through the halls of the hospital in those heels while holding an IV and a nurse’s hand. Only my aunt would go into this kind of surgery with that kind of attitude.
As she flipped through the rest of these pictures she told me that some of the nurses weren’t very amused by her and her inappropriate comments. I could tell these pictures were almost done and that the pictures from after the surgery were coming. Even though I had no idea what these pictures would actually show, I knew I wanted to see her experience all the way through, unedited. She opened up the pictures of the next album. The first picture showed her sitting in a metal chair like you see in a dentist office, the doctor on a stool in front of her, unraveling the bandages around her chest. The next few pictures hit me the hardest. One showed my aunt, alone, standing in front of a mirror seeing herself for the first time. Her chest was all sliced up from the incisions but the look on her face was what I was focused on. The expression on her face wasn’t disgust or fear or even tears like some people would experience. I was so impacted by this because it showed the strength my aunt had, which I knew she did, but also strength I never could have imagined anyone to have when experiencing this drastic change. I started to really see my aunt’s strength was beyond just confidence.
It hit me that being strong or confident didn’t always mean being loud and having all the attention. Sometimes, it could be that quiet confidence where you just believed in yourself and the beauty of being who you are. At that moment, I understood why she was posting such graphic pictures for anyone to see. All of these pictures were the real side of breast cancer that the Internet may not always show but this was what my aunt wanted to show to the world. It wasn’t pretty, some people may think it was too explicit, but it was real. Most of all she proved that it was okay, even right, to hate cancer.
It was so real that my aunt wanted to show women affected and not affected by breast cancer alike that it wasn’t something to be ashamed of. So along with these pictures she posted words of encouragement on her blog to women anywhere that needed it as they went through what my she was experiencing. As I followed my aunt’s blog even though I lived five minutes from her, I started noticing the impact she was making. I always knew my aunt was the strongest most confident woman I knew but after the summer filled with breast cancer, I saw that by having the courage and strength to stand up to any challenge you’re faced with, you can also find ways to help other people. Her favorite line, “Breast cancer took my boobs, but not my sense of humor” started spreading farther than I ever would have imagined and taught me how to deal with any obstacle your faced with. I learned so many things from my aunt over this summer but what I take away most, is how to find my own confidence. I had spent years admiring her outspoken confidence and trying to be like that. But maybe, that’s not what I should be. Maybe, I just need to find my quiet confidence.