THE BLOG

Women, Breast Cancer and Finding a Cure

Oct 17, 2013 | Updated Jan 23, 2014

My husband and I were sitting at the airport in Phoenix waiting to fly home to San Francisco, and I started to cry.

"What's the matter?" Dan asked.

I took out a notebook and wrote, "My doctor called. Mammogram not normal. I go tomorrow for another look."

The next day, I found myself in another waiting room. This time ,there were only women. We wore pink gowns tied in front, and we were all waiting to hear results from follow-up tests.

"You got called back, too?" a petite woman said. "It's nerve-racking. My sister had breast cancer. It's better these days; most live. My sister lived. You have kids?"

I nodded.

"Me too," she said.

"I could do bald," she said.

I had thought the same thing. I didn't know if I could do chemo. I felt like a cancer survivor -- I had lost my mom to cancer, and it had taken a while for me to laugh again and not hurt all the time.

The petite woman picked up a risk-factor card and read out loud. "Eat well. I eat well," she said. "Exercise. I exercise," she said. "Drink less. I don't drink every day," she paused, "but I could use a drink right now."

I laughed. She laughed. The other two women reading magazines who didn't seem to be listening laughed. For a moment, we were all human and that was enough.

And then the nurse came in the room and called my name. I followed her into a private room. "Normal," she said.

As I drove home, I worked on releasing alternate scenarios I had imagined, but there was part of me that didn't want to forget the week of not knowing that I had just lived.

Maybe the race for a cure really isn't a race at all. Maybe it's an invitation to stop. I stopped. I stopped and felt thankful for the people in my life, where I live, and how we live.

Because I was on an airplane that Sunday afternoon, gripped with the fear of a call-back mammogram appointment, I looked at Earth differently. I saw her dry desert, the Colorado River, the Sierra Nevada Mountains, the golden hills, the San Francisco Bay, and I felt grateful to be living on Earth. Big worries seemed smaller. The beauty of the Earth seemed bigger.

After I got my "normal" results, I waited for a return to normal. But everything has been redecorated in pink, from yogurt containers to NFL players, and I am reminded of women in pink robes waiting. And now I want each pink ribbon I see to remind me to call a woman I love, tell her I love her and tell her thank you. What if instead of racing back to normal, I made more time for women in my life, women I know, and women I don't know? What if I really felt them, soaked them in, like looking down on Earth from 30,000 feet, as if it were a last look? Intense savoring. Intense delight. Her intrinsic beauty so apparent. It could be a new normal.

Who knows what that might cure?

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This column originally appeared in The San Francisco Chronicle.

Kathleen Buckstaff's memoir The Tiffany Box is full of love, humor, heartache, and insight. A gathering of e-mails, letters, diary entries, newspaper columns, and holiday bulletins to family and friends, comprise Kathleen Buckstaff's candid, funny, and recognizably true chronicle of a generation "in-between": nurturing its young while nursing its aged, and coming to terms with the bitter realities that temper life's sweet rewards. http://www.amazon.com/The-Tiffany-Box-A-Memoir/dp/0988764202