I have found myself thinking a lot about
hope, lately: whether it is definable, tangible, fixed or fluid. Is it given?
Practiced? Found? And what can we do to live with hope—to embody it, not only
within and for ourselves, but so that we may exude and share it with others in
times of need?
Growing up, I hated the word “hope.” It felt trite and belittling.
I heard it a lot when my father was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer at
the age of 43 and again, years later, when my mother found her Stage I tumor
during a monthly self-exam. She underwent chemotherapy while caring for my
father during his final months and into the fall after his passing. Hope seemed
a shield that allowed well-meaning people (family members, friends,
acquaintances) to hide from our reality: the reality of breast
I remember sitting in high school assemblies, listening to school
clubs share announcements about the breast cancer fundraisers that they were
holding at football games or school plays. I remember my cheeks burning, proud
of their commitment, but frustrated and sometimes embarrassed by the fact that
nobody seemed to know about male breast cancer. Never were men mentioned. Never
were people like my dad, the man whom I went home to everyday, whom I watched
struggle to climb a set of stairs, spell his name, eat without assistance,
included in depictions of—or rallies for—breast cancer causes. Hope did not
encompass the endurance required to weather such a storm. And neither could it
be gleaned from pink posters. Instead, it was something more nuanced, more
internal, more real.
I felt anxious but hopeful at the age of eighteen as I sat in the
glass-windowed tower of Dana Farber Cancer Institute in Boston, Massachusetts,
and waited for my first consultation with a genetic counselor. My father, a
BRCA2 carrier, always shared the phrase “Knowledge is power” when talking about
his disease. Though young, I chose to pursue knowledge (which, for me, provided
empowerment and fostered hope) rather than wade in ambiguity. Positive results
would allow me to take preventative action. Negative results would disentangle
one facet of my family’s breast cancer journey.
Today, seven years after my father’s passing, it is still Science
that gives me hope. Whereas pink ribbons give me spirit, hope—for me—is
garnered from the scientific advancements that bring us closer to a cure each
day. From breakthroughs in genomics and immunotherapy, to advanced surgical
techniques and knowledge of preventative lifestyle habits, the world of cancer
care is changing. And not a moment too soon.
This October, I choose to see past the pink and into the reality
of researchers spending long hours in the lab; doctors treating their patients
with candidness and care; family members and friends lending support to loved
ones effected by cancer. I choose to invest in Science, recognizing that an
investment in cancer care is an investment, not only in my future, but in all
of our futures, for generations to come.
Maria De La Torre