October is Breast Cancer Awareness Month and I enjoy seeing the use of pink get more creative each year to serve as a reminder of the importance of being aware.  I’ve printed this column a number of times before, but feel that it is always a reality-check during this month of awareness, and am always grateful when someone comments to me that they read it for the first time.

 I’ll never forget it. It was the time of my life. I was enjoying the Sooner magic as a graduating senior at the University of Oklahoma, my best friend in the world and I had just discovered that our love for one another was going far beyond the bounds of friendship — we knew, without a doubt, we were destined to spend our lives together.

 It was shortly after I asked Deana to marry me that I received a phone call from her sister. She asked me to bring Deana home — her doctor needed to talk to her. I protested a bit, telling her it  was cold and snowy and we were both very busy...couldn’t it wait until later? It couldn’t.

 A “routine” biopsy hadn’t worried us too much. Deana was so young, we knew that breast cancer only happened to women over 50. It was that cold winter day, sitting in the living room of the house where Deana grew up that I discovered Deana’s uncanny ability to beat the odds...women ages 20-29 account for only 0.3% of diagnosed breast cancers. But, the doctor said those words — “breast cancer” — followed by an even scarier word, “mastectomy.” How could this be? She was only 20 years old.

 Second...even third opinions, confirmed the worst fears. A mastectomy was the only option.

 A year that began with fright, followed by the uneasy stressful feelings that accompany the long hours of hospital waiting rooms, ended joyfully as I walked my bride down the aisle .... knowing full well how blessed I was to be marrying my best friend — for richer or poorer, in sickness or in health.

 It was probably our Christmas wedding that prompted holidays to become such big events in our household. I love birthdays and the excitement of November and December, but for me each New Year’s celebration rings the brightest. As those precious minutes tick away towards midnight, I think not of New Year’s resolutions, but back to that cold January day when the words “breast cancer” entered my life. And I revel in quiet solitude, thankful that Deana has lived another year cancer free.

 My plea, as I write this, is not to women, but to the men in their lives. Guys — realize the importance of early detection and urge the special lady in your life to take necessary precautions to detect breast cancer. The fact is, one in eight women will become victims.

 The American Cancer Society strongly suggests breast self-examinations for women ages 20 and older. There should also be a clinical breast exam by a health professional every three years for women 20 to 39 years of age and annually for women over 40 Women ages 40 and older should have a screening mammogram every year.

 I’ve read articles over the years telling the stories of women who battle breast cancer. Some women talk of feeling like “less of a woman.”

 She has never verbalized it, but I hope Deana has never felt that way because nothing could be further from the truth.

 When I think of her love for me — how she accepts and loves me despite my faults and blemishes — and the witness she has been to me through the embodiment of her faith, I know she’s more of a woman than I will ever deserve.

 Deana bears several scars from her battle with cancer. The one I love most is on her back — in an area where tissue was removed to be used during reconstructive surgery. During summer months the scar is obvious, and when someone asks her about it, they are usually amazed that she is a cancer survivor.

 I’ve never told her, but many a night, when Deana is fast asleep, I lightly caress that scar on her back and thank God for that experience of years ago. That beautiful scar reminds me of Deana’s fortitude. It reminds me just how blessed I am that she’s lying there next to me.

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