Pink is the color that as a free spirited little girl I had always romanticized as perfect. The pale pink ribbons that my mother elegantly tied into my long blonde ponytails, the pink tutu that turned me into a magical fairy princess and ooh, how I loved those pink ballet slippers that pirouetted me across the room like a cascading butterfly.
As I got old(er), I preferred black, because…well... it made me look thin…(er)…it was bold and mature. And who could possible dislike red… the color of a delicious, sweet apple and sexy hot dress. I related to green, yellow, blue, turquoise, white…however, one thing was certain: I had become too sophisticated and strong for pink.
Funny, how I’ve never actually thought about any of this until now.
One lovely weekend several months ago, three fabulous girlfriends and I took a trip to the stunning deep mountains of Kentucky. No phones! No WIFI! It was fantastic and much needed for us all. The view from the hot tub was stunning as we were situated on what seemed to be the top of the greatest mountain ever. Morning, noon and night… we gossiped, nagged and laughed about men, kids, our jobs and pretty much everything imaginable in our effort to have fun, enjoy simplicity and return home rejuvenated.
I suppose it is inevitable when you cross the threshold of forty-something, that aches and pains become a natural source of discussion. Sore knees, swollen feet, elderly elbows, chin hairs and unfair weight gain…just to name a few.
At some point in our conversation, we retired from aching bones to more serious matters… and that is when the confessions began. We soon realized that we were all behind on our yearly check-ups.
I was the first to share the fact that I had not yet had a mammogram, which put me way behind the recommended age by several years. My explanation (and excuse) was simple: no history of breast cancer in my immediate family. To lighten the mood I joked that the thought of getting my breasts compressed like a couple of squished pancakes sounded atrocious. My confession was followed by passionate support among my girls along with a swift kick in the butt to go get that mammogram ASAP. The three other ladies had similar confessions concerning their own health issues.
Needless to say, that hot tub full of successful moms and business women made a toast to getting our various medical issues in order when we returned home from the mountain.
First thing Monday morning, I kept to my promise and was ready to check this mammogram “thing” of my list. I made the appointment and was set to go the following week.
For some reason, even though I was confident everything would be just fine, I felt uneasy about the pancake squish thing and asked Mister Man if he would mind going with me to my doctor visit and he happily obliged. I was told the process should take about an hour. We would enjoy lunch together afterwards.
That lovely Thursday, the waiting room of the pancake squish place was completely full. I signed in and began filling out paperwork, providing all of my family history and every medical detail imaginable. When my name was called, I followed the nice lady who took vitals and weight…(of course I took off my shoes) and she sent me down the hall into a private dressing room.
I then slipped into my very first little pink gown as a grown woman. I glanced at myself in the mirror and thought how precious this robe was and how innocent I looked. It was so soft and comfortable. Obviously worn my hundreds of women before me, as it had clearly been washed so many times that the fabric was thin and delicate on my skin.
I placed my street clothes in the provided baggie and tucked them into my given cubby locker and was then advanced into yet another waiting room area with about a dozen women of all ages wearing the same outfit as myself. It seemed odd to me that none of the ladies looked at each other, rather at their feet, phones, the walls, floors... similar to the oddity of being in an elevator. I wished for a connection and suspected we all did. But we didn’t make one.
However, as each woman left for her procedure and returned, words were not needed. Some came back literally praising God and others fighting back tears.
At that moment, the seriousness of the situation was beginning to sink in. My name was finally called and I was kindly escorted to the pancake squish machine.
The mammogram was not as yucky as I had imagined. Very uncomfortable for sure, although I tried to keep my sense of humor, bantering back and forth with the imaging specialist to pass time. At that moment I suspected this would be the most invasive experience I would ever have and I felt relieved because it was almost over.
However, it didn’t take long before the mammogram became the least of my worries as I couldn’t help but notice the look on the woman’s face. Legally, she couldn’t tell me anything. But I could read her uneasy left eyebrow moving about and slightly discontented face enough to know that that she saw something she did not like. She left with an awkward smile and I was left in the room alone for quite a while. I tried to study the feet of those walking beneath the two inch door gap wishing somebody would come in soon to let me know what was going on, but they just kept walking by.
Mister Man and I began texting back and forth. Although he tried keeping things light, it was obvious that he too was becoming concerned as the primary waiting room was beginning to clear out. I did not share with him my perception of the technician’s expressions. My tummy began feeling upset, but all of the sudden Chinese food was the last thing on my mind.
Finally, a gentle knock, tapped on the door of my private room and the text messages with Mister Man came to an abrupt end. The nurse informed me that the doctor had ordered another imaging test. She did her best to explain what would happen in this procedure, however things were starting to feel very real and slightly fuzzy. Something wasn’t right.
Two more imaging tests were ordered that same day. What began as an “hour-ish” appointment turned into a five-hour afternoon. I was the last one to leave the procedure area and Mister Man was the last person sitting in the waiting room when I walked out. I will never forget the look on his face. He will likely never forget mine.
We would then wait for results.
My phone rang a few days later from the same woman that had previously instructed me NOT to read anything into her voice when she called. She indicated that no matter what the results were, her tone would not change. She would ask if this was a good time to talk, in the event that I was driving, at work or an otherwise vulnerable situation.
“Hi! Is this Buffy?” she said cheerfully. “Yes.” I replied with a lump in my throat. “I am calling from the cancer center and was just wondering if this is a good time to talk.”
“Yes. This is as good a time as ever!” I said with a half-hearted laugh. She softly spoke the words... “Well, I am so sorry to tell you Buffy, but we did find that you have breast cancer.”
I was so numb at first that I was TOTALLY FINE. I literally behaved as if I had just been stung by a bee. Thank God the body and mind will allow a human time to remain in shock so that your brain can gradually accept something of this magnitude.
My shock remained in tact as I explained the news to my husband. I described the situation as if I were relaying the miniscule fact that I had just discovered a water leak in our garden hose, which would easily and quickly be repairable. However it did not take much time before we ultimately realized what we were facing. CAT scans, Ultra Sounds, MRI tests, biopsies, surgeons, nutritionalitsts, oncologists, mental help therapists, booklets full information and cancer processing coordinators later… we were no longer in shock. We cried until we laughed and we laughed until we cried. Over, and over again until it finally took.
Talking to our children was next. Being thirteen and fourteen year old boys, they listened carefully but didn’t ask many questions. As parents, it is our job to teach our children lessons mostly based on our personal experiences. The problem was, I had no experience with breast cancer. I put forward a very positive, brave outlook towards the situation without making unrealistic promises. But these amazing boys were learning right along with us because as much as I tried to remain strong through all of the tests, procedures, surgery, multiple daily treatments and information overload… it was impossible to be perky all of the time. They could tell I was afraid, tired and overwhelmed no matter how concrete I tried to remain. But they saw my strength plow through the fear and reality of breast cancer every single day.
On the day of my surgery that would remove the tumor, my boys got a kick out of the fact that I laid my phone on my lap so that I could hear music as I was being carted down the halls of the hospital. The music took me away from the stark white walls. If I was scared, I certainly didn’t let myself or my children know it.
My friends… In a world that has become lazy with idle chitchat, social media and other informal means of communication, cancer has brought me closer to those sweet peeps more than ever. Home cooked meals, flowers of every color, cozy nightgowns, cards, cookies, bath balms, wind chimes, candles…everything that I love has been sent to this family from my friends.
My friends truly know me well and the simple little things that bring me joy were graced upon this heavy situation. The conversations have been so special. Every time. My lifelong best girlfriend managed somehow to attend every single appointment. A true rock. Another of my very best friends has literally walked me through the process every step of the way, being a cancer survivor herself.
So many beautiful breast cancer patients have reached out to me, sharing stories, offering perspectives and encouragement, treatment opinions…passing the torch of their marvelous strength.
Since my diagnosis I have been told…stay positive, stay positive, stay positive, be strong, “you’ve got this girl” so, so many times. And yes that is all true.
Although so much is already behind me, my journey with cancer has just begun. Being strong means something very different to me these days. Being strong is not trying to be a super hero mother, friend, wife, daughter, sister or person. Being strong means waking up and doing my best to find grace and fierceness within myself. Being strong does not mean that I cannot have frustrating moments of overwhelming weakness. Being strong is being realistic and honoring my human process.
Some day’s “I’ve got this girl”. And some days I don’t. But then, I’ve always been that way.
Even though my career in music has placed me in a public format for most of my life, I am actually a very private person.
The reason I have chosen to write about the most personal experience of my life is because I wrote one very short post on Facebook. “Well, damn…I’ve got breast cancer.” Within four hours of that post, nearly two-dozen women private messaged me and indicated that because of that post… they booked their mammograms. I cried a million happy and heartfelt tears. Perhaps that post will have saved one life. Perhaps these words today will save one more.
My fabulous girls and I are due for a trip back to the Kentucky Mountains. I can’t wait to share some good wine, southern recipes…nag about men, kids, and life…but I can tell you something. When it’s time for bed, I’ll be wrapping myself up beneath those magical mountains in my little pink gown.
The pancake squish machine isn’t the end of the world, as you know it. But not going could be.
Lexington Cancer Foundation, Inc. | 859.388.2620