I’ve only slightly begun to recover from my weekend at Camp Breastie (going right back to work at 7am the day after you get back will do that to ya), but I’ve finally had enough processing time to share some reflections on my time at Camp. I am so grateful to have had the opportunity to be surrounded by so many incredible human beings in such a beautiful setting. I’m still not sure this post will do the experience justice, but I had to at least start to get some of my thoughts out there. It was truly a once in a lifetime experience to be present at the first ever Camp Breastie, but I’m sure the next years to come will also be amazing and I hope to see many of you there!
My biggest takeaway from Camp was this – I am never alone in my fears, joys, anxieties, struggles, highs, and lows. No matter how much I may feel like no one can possibly understand, chances are there’s at least one Breastie out there who has gone through a very similar experience, maybe even the exact same experience. I knew there would be 400-500 women there, but as I sat at the opening ceremonies, I was overcome with emotion as I realized that every single person in that space had been affected in some way by breast or gynecologic cancers. As I sat in a circle with my cabin-mates having a “fireside” chat, each one of them said something that completely resonated with me, even if our diagnoses or situations were totally different.
I also realized that since my diagnosis I have been reminding myself, “You CAN do hard things”, but I’d been taking that more so mentally than physically. Sure, I’ve returned to most exercise activities that I was doing pre-cancer, but I didn’t realize how terrified I was do to more physical things until I was put in that situation at Camp. At Camp I made it all the way up a climbing wall, leapt for and caught a trapeze, went paddleboarding, and did my first cartwheel since before my surgeries. Every single one of those acts was terrifying, and I was convinced I was going to ruin my plastic surgeon’s lovely work, but guess what? IT WAS FINE. Disclaimer – I’m a few months out from my most recent surgery, and my medical team has cleared me for all my usual activities – you should not try anything crazy without talking to your team first! The point is, I realized that I’d been holding myself back without even really knowing it.
Lastly, I again had the harsh realization that according to this lovely 1 in 3 statistic out there, so many of the amazing women I met will one day be diagnosed with Stage IV Metastatic Breast Cancer (MBC). While there were many pre-vivors and care-vivors at Camp, there were hundreds of survivors, and if we (roughly) estimate maybe 250 survivors, that means that someday about 83 of those women will receive a diagnosis of MBC. Some of the women at Camp had already received such a diagnosis. MBC is considered late stage breast cancer, and is the only form of breast cancer that results in death. Looking around a room of 500 women, that’s a tough pill to swallow, and looking just at my carpool full of Chicago Breasties, it’s even worse to conceive of.
So I leave you with this – next time you are looking for a place to donate time or money, or if you are feeling “pink-washed” during the next October Breast Cancer Awareness Month, consider donating to Metavivor. Metavivor is an organization dedicated to raising awareness of MBC, and funds that will go directly to research for treatment of MBC. Currently, only about 2-5% of breast cancer research funding goes to MBC, and Metavivor is trying diligently to change that. I am so proud to share that with funds raised through Camp Breastie, thousands of dollars were donated to Metavivor! Let’s keep that ball rolling – we’ve got awareness now, but what we need is a CURE. Hope to see you all at Camp Breastie next year!