By Kimberly Seals Allers
Sunday, December 19, 2010
The death of Elizabeth Edwards was a wake-up call for those of us who have loved ones fighting breast cancer, writes Kimberly Seals Allers. Her 90-year-old grandmother has bravely contended with breast cancer for the last 10 years.
(WOMENSENEWS)--One of the things that always struck me about Elizabeth Edwards, or at least her media persona, was that she epitomized grace under fire. Grace under siege by a deadly disease, a wayward husband and a highly publicized baby-mama-drama scandal.
But the death of Elizabeth Edwards was also a critical wake up call to me and I hope to countless other people who may have mistaken bravery in the face of cancer with actually beating cancer. They are not the same.
My own grandmother, who turned 90 this year, has been battling breast cancer for over 10 years. Recently, the doctors said there was nothing more that they could do for her and she started receiving hospice care. When I heard the word "hospice," I completely freaked out, because to me, that is where you go to die. But it was explained to me that she would receive hospice care at home and it meant all sorts of other services would be available to her. Still, it was eye-opening.
Now, I have to say that I am fully aware that many people--cancer or no cancer--don't live to see 90. But my grandmother is not on that walk yet as far as I'm concerned. Recently, at her 90th party, she cracked jokes, ate good food and basked in the glow of having her children, grandchildren, great-grands, nieces, nephews, siblings and friends all around her. The next day I came by and cooked her smothered chicken for dinner. (Imagine the pressure! But she loved it!).
When she endured the pain of chemotherapy or the terrible side effects, she was so strong and graceful about it that perhaps even I discounted how sick she really was. I feel awful about that.
I'm wondering, have others have done the same to their loved ones?
In many ways, my grandmother is typical of many black women, who like Elizabeth Edwards, puts on the "strong suit" in the face of adversity and appears to be coping despite their pain and suffering, despite their anxiety and fears. I often wondered how much more of the painful treatments my grandmother could handle and if even she was getting tired of her battle.
The reality is my grandmother may die soon. We all must die, unfortunately.
There will be no CNN reports when my grandmother, Helen Nurse, succumbs to cancer or natural causes. Sanjay Gupta won't be on TV explaining the medical details. But there will be a gaping hole as I suspect there is in the Edwards family. There will be holes, like those left by the millions of black women who die from breast cancer, especially since we tend to get a more aggressive form of cancer that strikes younger and harder. African American women age 35 to 44 have a death rate from breast cancer twice that of white women the same age. And while deaths from breast cancer have been declining for nearly a decade, deaths of African-American women have been dropping at a much slower pace.
Those are a lot of holes in our families and for our children. A hole created with grace and dignity is still a hole. We can help reduce those holes created by breast cancer in our communities by regular and early screenings, practicing good self care across the board and learning to get support when we are in a personal, emotional or medical crisis.
That would be truly graceful.
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Kimberly Seals Allers is an award-winning journalist and editorial director of the Black Maternal Health project at Women's eNews. A former senior editor at Essence and writer at Fortune, she is the founder of www.MochaManual.com, a parenting destination for African Americans, and author of "The Mocha Manual to a Fabulous Pregnancy" (Amistad/HarperCollins) and two other Mocha Manual books.
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