I remember the first time I saw Sondra. She was sitting at the back table of a small classroom. She had a copy of the syllabus already printed out from Blackboard and had her books and pens and her Dunkin’ Donuts coffee all ready to go.
She had twinkling eyes and she was engaged in the world around her. But, somehow when I looked at her I knew. I knew that she lived in Cancerville.
As I always do, I urged my students to let me know if there was anything about them I needed to know to improve the classroom environment for them. My classic example is a former student who was diabetic. She let me know that if she looked unstable, she had candy in her pockets and to give her some.
Sondra came up after class to tell me that she had completed treatment for breast cancer a year before. She was in remission, but she wanted me to know that she had chemo brain. Tears welled up, as they do, when we make ourselves vulnerable to each other.
Sondra was a student after my own heart. Her success in life came from hard work. She wrote and revised and read and studied and met with me to talk about her reading. She didn’t accept confusion. She pursued answers. She asked questions. She explored.
College wasn’t just the pursuit of a degree for Sondra. It was a way of being in the world. There are few things in the world that I admire more than hard work.
After the semester was over, she friended me on Facebook. She also came by the office every other week or so to talk. She had such a great laugh, a mischievous sort of laugh.
In December of 2014, I think, she posted on Facebook that she was having back problems. Her bones hurt, she said. She was sent to Physical Therapy. The pain didn’t improve.
A month or so later, she was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Since then, Sondra had been in the midst of the windstorm of cancer, with all the pain and suffering that it involves. She endured surgeries and chemo and radiation. She died today, October 1, 2016.
Today is the first day of Breast Cancer Awareness month. Sondra is one of about 110 people who died today from metastatic breast cancer. It is incurable.
I learned about Metup from co-founder Beth Caldwell and her blog The Cult of Perfect Motherhood. Based on AIDS activism, ACTUP, Metup seeks to turn awareness to metastatic breast cancer and to raise money for research. Direct from their website are the goals of their organization:
We want the SEER database modified to begin tracking when someone with early stage disease metastasizes, so that every woman and man with metastatic disease is counted.
We want additional research funding for all cancer types. The National Institute of Health (NIH) now only funds about 8% of the grant applications it receives. We want that number increased to at least 25%.
We want at least 30% of federal breast cancer research dollars to be spent on metastatic disease, with a focus on translational research.
We want corporations that use our disease for profit to immediately cease doing so. Our deaths are not for sale.
We want organizations that sexualize our disease, including breast cancer charities, to stop focusing on our breasts and start focusing on our lives. We oppose any breast cancer charity that partners with corporations or other organizations that sexualize our cancer.
We want anyone associated with breast cancer, including breast cancer charities and any corporations that put pink ribbons on their merchandise, to provide accurate information about breast cancer’s death toll and to focus their efforts on reducing that toll through research, rather than continuing their now-pointless awareness campaigns that do nothing to save our lives.
On this fist day of October, when the world turns pink and people spend thousands of dollars on pink merchandise, please remember Sondra and the thousands of others who will die this month of metastatic breast cancer.
Breast cancer is not pink or sexy or a big party. It is a killer.
You can donate to Metup here http://metup.org
You can donate to Sondra Ewers family here:
To Sondra and her family and friends, I send you all my love. I am so sorry for your loss.
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