In today’s York News Times we have a special section in observance of Breast Cancer Awareness Month.
There are few people who haven’t been affected by the disease. As expected, I’ve had several special people in my life who have had breast cancer.
Jan was a radiology tech in Omaha who administered mammograms. Patients sent her cards and gifts, letting her know how much they appreciated her – candy, flowers knick-knacks. If they saw her in passing, they stopped to thank her and give updates. She took a lot of pride in her work (though I never heard her call it “work”), and treasured her relationships with people most would rather not think about after they left the room. But not Jan. She knew.
Having a breast – or both – sometimes makes a woman feel less feminine, less desirable; embarrassed. Jan didn’t care. She wore her double mastectomy like a badge of honor; she survived – thrived, even. Jan weighed her options, and – as she once told me – decided to “get rid of them.” Even so, behind the saucy swagger and sweet voice, maybe deep inside it bothered her. Maybe she looked in the mirror sometimes and felt bad about what she saw.
If she did, she fooled us all.
By the time I met Jan, she had retired, but I could still imagine her comforting the women who received bad news, and celebrating with the women who received good news – all in her beautiful, kind voice, her hugs even better. She understood. She’d been through it, too.
Jan conquered breast cancer, and she was damn proud of it – as well she should have been. That made it all the harder, though, when she got sick again. Cancer had returned. She’d beat breast cancer, but the rest of her body had another round to contend with.
In her final months, Jan looked like a ghost of herself. She had grown pale and gaunt, and wasn’t her saucy self. Stairs were nearly impossible, and she always had a Big Gulp of water with her. She loved to frequent estate sales around Omaha with her husband, but soon even those trips had to end. Eventually the only trips she took were to the hospital. Still, she talked about – and believed in -- beating cancer again.
Towards the end, she stayed in her hospital bed, while her son and husband kept watch beside her. Towards the end, around Christmas, a woman from hospice came to her room to talk to Mark and Bob about moving her. Jan started talking. At first, no one heard her kind voice. She persisted. “I’m ready to go – I’m ready to go!” Ready to go to hospice? “I’m ready to go be with God.”
Within days, that’s where she went.