“In the coldest February, as in every month in every other year, the best thing to hold onto in this world is each other.”
— Linda Ellerbee, cancer survivor diagnosed in 1992

 

I begin each day the Navy way. I make my bed first. I’m unduly obsessive about it. Today, I timed it: 13 minutes.

It took nine minutes to drive to my coffee shop, and about four minutes to walk to the door. Thirteen minutes.

In a startling article by cancer patient Kate Pickert in the Oct. 1 issue of Time magazine, I learned that in that time, just 13 minutes, one woman somewhere in America dies of breast cancer.

Every 13 minutes a wife, daughter, mother, girlfriend, cousin, friend in the U.S. will lose her life to breast cancer. Now think about that when washing the dishes. Check the kitchen clock and time it. Taking out the trash, standing in line at Starbucks, time it.

Check your watch, or set an alarm on your smartphone to make a sound every 13 minutes while you’re reading a magazine or standing in the checkout line at the market. Keep it going all day for just one day.

As the clerk rings up your order and packs your bags, someone, somewhere, in a house in Kansas, a hospital in Augusta, or a hospice in Westwood, California, just died of breast cancer. Not diagnosed, mind you no, not suffering. Dying.

And that, for all the strides made in treatment, all the fundraising races and commercials, some 40,000 American women still die from breast cancer every year.

I never gave much thought to the disease in the early days here in Maine. Then, when I started writing this column, I was approached in the market by different women who thanked me for my column called, “The Two Mrs. Jones.” That was about a woman who shocked me one day when I was admiring her new hairdo.

“Well,” she confessed, “it’s just the way it grew back in after the chemo.”

There were others after that, too many. And then for me, it got personal.

Eileen Devine Klein. Eileen was my beloved older sister, a champion swimmer, an accomplished artist. She managed to pursue a career in art and raise two sons before being struck down by crippling arthritis at age 45. Then the worst happened. She took a fall from her wheelchair and hit her breast on the table. That summer she felt a lump and was diagnosed with breast cancer. Treatments failed. It spread to her bones and she died. It was a long, painful death. She was the first.

Ruth Mueller Devine, my sister-in-law. Ruth Mueller was a rural farm girl who married my brother Kenny and changed all of our lives with her purity and cooking. She was truly the salt of the earth, an educated but homespun girl. She was diagnosed in the ’80s. One day she was there like the sun, and the next, she was gone. Her journey to the end took too long.

Dawn Devine Pisciotta. My baby sister (a survivor). Dawn and I were separated as young children in the long saga of a fractious family. Later in our busy lives, we reconnected. She was a divorced mother of three Irish-Italian children. Dawn had a long career with the SmithKline Beecham Pharmaceutical company, now GlaxoSmithKline plc. Dawn rose to be one of their top East Coast representatives.

Retired and ready to enjoy her home and grandchildren, she fell victim to breast cancer.

Her journey through the process of recovery was a nightmare. The drugs and the chemo took a hammer to her with nightmares and delusions.

I’m happy to say that she is now back home with her children and her grandchildren. Dawn Pisciotta Devine. Survivor.

October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Am I aware this morning?

You bet. Are you?

 

J.P. Devine is a Waterville writer.


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