by Linda R. Rush
Survivor

In 1997 my friend, Benja Arnold, was diagnosed with recurrence of breast cancer after having been disease free for 7 years. Because of her, I participated in Race for the Cure for the first time ever. I remember finding out where to go to register, registering myself and a teacher friend, picking up our tee shirts, and buying a static decal for my window on my door at school. The whole experience left me feeling rather “noble” – like I was doing something really important for “women.” I felt like I was contributing in some small way to this “greater sisterhood” thing that I got a sense of for the first time. I was proud to be a participant, and when I raced I wore a pink sheet of paper on my back that said, “IN CELEBRATION OF … BENJA ARNOLD.” I kept that paper, and we talked about the race afterward.

In October ’98 a series of personal family crises culminated in the Race for the Cure month. My only race run that year was in continuous circles. I don’t think there were any “winners.”

In October 1999, 4 1/2 months after beginning treatments for inflammatory breast cancer, I again “raced” for the cure. But, this time, when I walked into the registration area … one-breasted, bald, bloated, and facing stem cell transplant the next week, my whole attitude was 180 degrees changed. I wanted to go up to every chic Germantown woman who was registering and thank her for running for ME. I was not feeling noble or proud; I was feeling broken, humbled, and indebted. I remember when I was offered a pink Survivor cap and tee shirt … I truly didn’t know whether I was supposed to accept them. In my mind I wasn’t a “Survivor” yet. Embarrassed, I took the items, went to my car, put my head on my steering wheel and wept. The day of the race, I once again wore Benja’s name as I “walked” the race with 13,000 other participants including some students, teachers and parents of our school who walked in my honor.

On October 21, 2000, on my back will be a pink sheet of paper that will say, “IN MEMORY OF … BENJA ARNOLD.” I won’t be racing FOR her anymore. She lost her fight August 14. It’s too late for her. Maybe it’s too late for me. Only God knows. But, I pray it’s not too late for my mother and my sister … for the young ladies in my school that I have the privilege of working with each day. I pray it’s not too late for you. Maybe we can perfect the vaccine that’s in the works … so they won’t have to experience what I’ve experienced … or at least, find “kinder” and more effective treatments.

I have never participated in any of the many local cancer support groups. I also knew I was not going to be a cancer volunteer and hang out at the clinic with a blue “volunteer” apron trying to make people feel better. In fact, my thinking all along was, “When I emerge on the other side of this tunnel of treatment, I’m closing this chapter of my life. I am going to get stronger, and I am going to get on with living the rest of my life. People will once again ask about my family and my dog; not my health.”

But, I’ve learned what so many others have learned before me … that the “cancer chapter” never closes … it continues to be written. Some days it occupies only a few sentences of my time other days maybe a paragraph or a page, but there is always a “p.s.” … Never a period. And, I’ve found that that’s not all bad. To have each day colored by my ibc experience is to profit from some major lessons. I want to never forget the lessons I’ve learned from cancer, including how precious the relationships are with which God has blessed me … and the fact that there are no longer any “ordinary” days in my life … or any “routine” tests. There’s a heightened awareness of others and their needs … that sometimes their need to be ministered to is more important than my need to be “right.” Imagine that. I know that there are worse things than getting up at 5:30 a.m. and going to work … NOT GETTING UP and going to work, for instance. I learned that the worst day at school is still better than the best day in a hospital. For these reasons, and many others, I want to never forget to educate others about breast cancer … and about ibc in particular.

Please read the enclosed information about Inflammatory Breast Cancer which involves the lymphatic system and often doesn’t have a lump. Be aware that this rare and aggressive form of breast cancer is often undetectable by mammogram and is, therefore, too frequently misdiagnosed as a breast infection. Wear the pin I bought for you occasionally if you are comfortable with that … or pin it to your mammogram appointment page of your calendar as a reminder. Race for the Cure if you can… and ask someone you love to race with you. Most of all take care of yourself!! Don’t do like I did and neglect getting a regularly scheduled mammogram even though I had pain and itching, classic ibc symptoms which I did not recognize as “cancer.” My car and my teeth NEVER missed an appointment. Are they more important than my health? Thank you for your many prayers and kind expressions of encouragement. I appreciate your allowing me this opportunity to be at least a small part of the Solution by getting the word out.

God Bless You,
Linda R. Rush
Survivor

P. S. I raced in “CELEBRATION OF … JUDY HOGUE,” Briarcrest teacher, diagnosed 8/00 …. detected early with a routine mammogram!