We need to talk about breasts.
Every day 57 Australians are diagnosed with breast cancer. By the age of 85, one in 15 of us is at risk of being diagnosed. For women, that likelihood is closer to one in eight. In 2022 an estimated 212 males and 20,428 females will receive their breast cancer diagnosis. Although a very small percentage of men get breast cancer, it is predominantly a cancer that impacts women. Our risk increases with age and it’s the second leading cause of cancer-related death.
The biggest risk factors: being a woman and getting older. Bummer, that’s me. That’s all my girlfriends. That’s pretty sobering. In fact it’s part of why I have become sober. As a woman who is getting older I can’t hide from the very real fact that just one drink each day can increase your risk of breast cancer by 50 per cent. That’s staggering. And while I can’t do anything about the other two main risk factors, the alcohol is something I can do something about.
Breast cancer is so common for us that it’s almost expected. It’s the knock on the door we always knew was coming. We hear it hit next door, down the street. We wonder when the loud knock is for us. The comedian in me can’t but help see the irony in a metaphor about unwanted knockers.
I don’t have breast cancer, but I have known so many women who have survived and wonderful women who have died from breast cancer. Courageous Barb Pinter was a beautiful woman I met at a birth-support group in Byron Bay in the ’90s. She was an earthy natural woman with long blonde hair and an easy laugh. She spoke softly but had a quiet confidence. She had a strong connection to community. When she got her diagnosis she started up a local breast-cancer support group, and brought women undergoing treatment, or in early recovery, together.
I remember facilitating, at Barb’s invitation, a comedy session for the group. It seemed like an odd thing to do, and frankly I was nervous. I wondered how I would be welcomed, a breast-cancer-free woman asking them to laugh at their struggles. I think I even called our session ‘laugh your tits off’. Bloody hell. I’d never do that now, but women dealing with adversity are pretty bloody amazing.
The women talked about their mastectomies, their breast reconstructions, their decision to leave the scar and get a tattoo instead. They talked about their kids, about their guilt about not being the mother they wanted to be, about the grief of leaving their loved ones, and about the joy of every day. There were tears and laughter. I felt profoundly moved and deeply affected. It was such an honour to stand in that space and hear those stories. I was the only woman who hadn’t experienced breast cancer in the room, but I benefited from those stories. It’s probably over a decade ago and I still remember them. I got to see what real courage actually looks like.
I wished others could hear these amazing stories, these honest insights. Wickedly funny, brutally honest. My two favourite things. Beautiful Barb later died. Her cancer came back. I can’t see a field of pink ladies without thinking of her. Her gentle faded blue eyes and her soft voice. When we sat side by side with our pregnant bellies in full bloom, who could have known what our futures would hold?
After watching one of the people I love most go through diagnosis and treatment this year, the months of pain and solitude, of coping with chemo, nausea, brain fog, isolation, and grief I realised that so many women right now are quietly enduring the same thing. These women who become survivors. The women that we sometimes lose. It’s even harder for regional and rural women who have less access to support and have to travel long distances for treatment.
This year I’m raising money for local breast-cancer support – with proceeds going to Cancer Compassionate Fund for treatment support. It’s a standup comedy fundraiser hosted by me called Boobfest – starring Bev Killick, Ellen Briggs, Bron Lewis, and Alexandra Hudson.
Bangalow Bowlo, Wednesday 19 October at 8pm. Tix are just $25 on mandynolan.com.au.