This week in Washington, the anniversary of Martin Luther King’s historic speech is being celebrated. Despite the half-century that has passed, and my being a white girl from the suburbs who had not even been born when the speech was given, I continue to be inspired by Dr. King’s words. He spoke of struggle, and of freedom and equality; he challenged us all to dream, and to give life to those “impossible” dreams with our words, so that they might begin, at least, to be realized.
For a long time after I was diagnosed with breast cancer, I didn’t dare to dream. It was too chancy. After all, I was in the process of doing just that when I was diagnosed, and my world came crashing down; I’d learned my lesson. I knew better than to expect too much, and for a while all I could do was humbly hope only to live, just one year, then another, maybe get one kid through school, then the next. While I’m not sure the fear ever completely leaves us, in time the abject terror does, and I realize now that along the way, and without really noticing, I have taken the long view. I have started to dream again.
I work now with young women with breast cancer, many of whom are even younger than I was, many with more advanced disease. This work has changed my perspective, broadened my view of what breast cancer really is, not just in my little world, but in our world today. It has lifted my spirits and it has broken my heart. I have gone from feeling that I must have been very unlucky to seeing just how fortunate I have been. I have seen the underbelly of breast cancer, and in this case, it isn’t a pretty pink. The dreams I have now aren’t just for me anymore. They are for all of us.
I have a dream.
I have a dream that one day, women of all races and creeds will live out the fullness of their lives without fear of this disease of breast cancer.
I have a dream that no young mother, pregnant or with babe in arms, will find herself fighting this disease while trying to protect her young.
I have a dream that young women diagnosed with breast cancer will not have to make trades surrounding their breasts, their fertility, and their sexual wellness in their fight against a disease more likely to be aggressive, and more likely to be deadly.
I have a dream that all families, even those haunted by the ghosts of hereditary cancers, will find their daughters, sisters, mothers, aunts, and grandmothers living long lives together, well and unafraid.
I have a dream that my four children, whose childhoods were touched by breast cancer, will live in adult worlds that are not, that my sons will never need to be breast cancer husbands, nor my daughters survivors.
I have a dream that poverty, should it still exist, will no longer limit a woman’s access to necessary health care, nor continue to worsen, as it does today, her chance of surviving her breast cancer.
I have a dream that metastatic breast cancer, should it still exist, will also be curable, and that there will be a multitude of effective and tolerable treaments for even the most difficult cancers.
I have a dream that groups that say they are working to cure breast cancer will do that and that alone, funding solid research and providing services to women diagnosed, never distracted from the singular focus of that mission, and the integrity of that work.
I have a dream that our physician-scientists will press on to great discoveries, their research sound, their wisdom great and their funding abundant.
I have a dream that no woman ever face this disease alone, and that every woman has the information and unfailing support she needs for each leg of the journey.
And, if I may be so bold to paraphrase the beautiful words of Dr. King:
This is our hope. This is the faith that we go back to work with. With this faith we will be able to hew out of the mountain of despair a stone of hope. With this faith we will be able to transform the jangling discord of our health care system into a beautiful symphony of wellness and sisterhood. With this faith we will be able to work together, to pray together, to struggle together, to heal together, knowing – hoping – that we will all be free one day.