It is September and it is almost October…it is almost breast cancer awareness month. Right here in the Rettew household, we have enough breast cancer awareness to last us a lifetime, and our house is not filled with pink marketing, but the stories sewn from the many battles we have faced the last ten years.
Did you hear, once again South Carolina ranks #1 in rate of women murdered by men. This new data was released just a few weeks before October, which is Domestic Violence Awareness Month. Did you also know that October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month?
Yes…you will see pink everywhere from products in the grocery store, fountains in downtowns, major state/federal buildings colored pink…we will be pink washed in jut a few days.
It was just last week, Angelina Jolie announced her radical mastectomy after learning she carried the BRCA1 gene mutation. Her OP-ED appeared on NYTimes.com titled, “My Medical Choice.” Her story was one that brought tremendous media attention and awareness to an issue that is hard for many families to even discuss.
Over five years ago, my wife Sarah lost her mother to breast cancer…a very aggressive breast cancer referred to as triple negative, metastatic breast cancer. Her battle was beyond tough, creating many deep conversations and heated discussions after her passing. One of those conversations included the genetic testing for BRCA1 gene mutation.
The term “breast cancer” is one of the biggest marketing engines in the world of large hospitals, cancer treatment facilities, and organizations that raise funds for research. Families of those who lost a loved one to breast cancer even resist the marketing engine behind “breast cancer awareness” including the pink ribbon, cause marketing initiatives, and other marketing engines that leverage the conversation for their own gain.
Sarah is one of those women who has resisted for years not buying anything that uses the color pink to further the organization’s bottom-line. We focus our giving to organizations who can make direct financial for breast cancer research. Sarah even resists the conversation of being tested for the BRCA1 gene mutation. Why?
To many of us, the genetic testing is a no-brainer. But imagine being the daughter of a woman who died from one of the most aggressive forms of breast cancer. Imagine being mother-less on Mother’s Day or even trying to figure out to raise your first child without your mother. Having “the test” is entering pandora’s box of finding out your “death” sentence, then not knowing what to do next. It seems so simple.
For the first time, we have a story that has brought mainstream attention to not only having the BRCA1 test but taking action after the test. Angelina Jolie lost her mother to ovarian cancer close to five years ago. This means “the idea” of being tested has been a part of Angelina’s thought process for some time. We know her mother did not die recently and we know she did not make the decision to have this surgery as a “knee jerk” reaction. She pondered, processed, and prepared for this decision over a long period of time.
Angelina explains in the NYTimes.com OP-ED:
“The truth is I carry a ‘faulty’ gene, BRCA1, which sharply increases my risk of developing breast cancer and ovarian cancer. My doctors estimated that I had an 87 percent risk of breast cancer and a 50 percent risk of ovarian cancer, although the risk is different in the case of each woman. Only a fraction of breast cancers result from an inherited gene mutation. Those with a defect in BRCA1 have a 65 percent risk of getting it, on average. Once I knew that this was my reality, I decided to be proactive and to minimize the risk as much I could.”
It is a huge set of hurdles Angelina faced. First, loosing her mother…then making the tough decision to be tested. After learning that she carries this specific gene mutation, making the decision to have a surgery that ultimately changes her visible appeal. A visible appeal that makes her one the most beautiful women on the big screen. Imagine the series of decisions she had to make. Now we are learning she will further her resolve by having her ovaries removed in the near future.
Her story has become a tangible path for many women to connect. Regardless of how she is viewed…we see the human side of Angelina and how she can empower others to to face this tough decision. Her story has given us language…given us context to frame the conversation.
Stories of courage bring paths of positive movement. These stories pave the way for women to not only make tough decisions but also impact the way women and families view medicine, technology, research, and the power of making healthy decisions.
As a male, it is hard for me to even begin to fathom this decision. But as a storyteller, it brings me tremendous empathy for those women who are faced with this decision everyday.
These are the stories that bring change, advocacy, and hope for the future of health care. May we all have the courage to make tough, healthy decisions that not only impact us personally but those that surround us…including the ones we love.
So I was sitting in the board meeting for the Anderson Area Chamber of Commerce and the closing remarks from board chairman Bill Manson has me thinking. He told us that the average American home has five televisions. Think about that for a second, five televisions. He goes on to reflect that we Americans live in the richest nation in the world. We have so much to be thankful for this holiday season. Now I am not using the television as a barometer to measure wealth in totality here in America…I am looking at it as a small fact that makes you sit back and think.
One year ago this month, I decided to break away from another company and start my own business. For the past year, Sarah and I have been able to achieve more in one year than we have in the last four years of marriage. We have rid ourselves of all our medical debt, we have really started focusing on saving, we have spent more time thinking about giving not only money but time to causes we believe, we have helped our sister-in-law get through college, and we are closer than ever to starting a family. My little business is only a small part of this freedom of choice, but it has been more about empowering our future. Taking an active role in where we want to be tomorrow. So, I am thankful.
This past year, my mother has finally found her mate…one she can spend the rest of her life with; and I do not have to worry any longer. My sister has found someone who makes her day happy, and it is our hope that this relationship will flourish. Sarah has began to find the new her, after loosing her best friend…her mother to breast cancer three years ago and suffering three miscarriages over the last two years. Grief is a tough road.
I am not sure where business will take me next year? I have a good plan in place and focus on growth and continue to find the right people to work with…ones who want to do some fun stuff. I am looking forward to continuing teaching at Clemson…this is one area that I find the most joy. There is nothing better than walking in a room of tomorrow’s leaders and knowing that one day they will be taking care of me, in some capacity…why not help them along the way. For this I am thankful.
What do I want the most next year…not the gadgets that everyone knows I love, not the new car, not some crazy trip for vacation…I want to start a family. If it is our place to be able to have our own child this year…I think I will write about it every day on this blog. If it is our place to adopt, I will open my house with joy. I am 36 years old, turning 37 next March. If we have a child next year, I will be 57 when they turn 20 and in college. I will be 67 when they have kids…if they do so by 30. I want the opportunity to see my legacy. I want to see my tomorrow. I want to be able to support my family and do it with the passion I have for everything I put my heart into. I want to be able to tell the story of my family just as much as telling stories for my clients. I want to start teaching my legacy just as much as I teach our legacy in Clemson’s classroom.
So I am humbled and thankful. This is not some cliche blog post where I am going to sell you a bunch of thankful stuff about turkey and world peace. I am thankful that I can get up in the morning, in the house I pay for everyday, working with the clients I love, next to the woman I adore, and share life with the family and friends that make breathing air so complete. We should be so thankful to be able to freely express our opinions, fight for our passion, share our values and ethics, and do it in a country…a place we can call home regardless how many televisions sit in our households. Thankfulness is contextual and this is my little thankful thought for the day.
Thanks Bill for helping me think and articulate why I am thankful this holiday season! We should be so thankful.
What is your story? What is your legacy? How are you sharing it with your tomorrow?