FEAR

I’m sure anyone remotely interested in breast cancer has seen and read The New York Times Magazine. Heck, I reblogged it as a part of ihatebreastcancer’s blog and additional comments. It’s like a reader’s digest version of nearly every article or criticism of breast cancer awareness/marketing/issues I’ve read in the past two years, and I am sure anyone reading this blog is familiar with nearly everything in the article—before even reading it. But that is because we seek out info about breast cancer more than the average Jane. Perhaps the good news here is that this piece is in a non-cancer oriented magazine, so maybe more people will learn some truths about the pink machine. It is odd this is published in April not October. Not complaining mind you, for many of us breast cancer is an every-damn-day-of-the-year-not-just-in-October deal. I admit I am a little worried that a piece challenging the common perceptions of breast cancer is released nearly half a year away from the signature month when the media generally toes the proverbial line. I hope this magazine/article is remembered when October comes and we are drowning in pink, but I am sure pink events and products were in planning stages by November 1 of last year, and it is already too late to turn it around this year. Maybe next year.

I wasn’t going to write about it, figuring everyone else already has, and mostly I agreed with the article. But I had a hard time with the idea of “distorted fears of middle-aged women”.

To be fair, this article is the not the first time I’ve read someone comment that the pink marketing is selling fear to women, scaring them into getting mammograms, interpreting/presenting the stats to make it seems as if getting breast cancer is nearly inevitable if you’re a woman (1 in 8 was really picked on in one book I read), but it really bothered me this time around.

The author admits the fear is legitimate. And I agree that the fear is manipulated for profit. We’re taught to fear cancer so we get mammograms, but reassured that if does happen, it can be treated (thanks, awareness funding from drug companies! YES I’M BEING SARCASTIC)…so I guess fear marketing only goes so far. After all, pink never mentions metastatic cancer, and we should not fear death, cancer patients don’t die, we lose our battle (YES I’M BEING SARCASTIC, read my earlier post The D Word).

But here is the thing: I was not afraid before I got cancer. The pink awareness marketing may drive women to getting mammograms, may intimidate with the stats, but I thought when it happened to me, I’d be much older. I suspect that is the case with many young women with cancer, and I think some women of any age, without cancer, think it will not happen to them ever. They might recite the “1 in 8”, but assume they’ll be one of the other 7. So how real is the fear?

When my aunt was diagnosed in 2010 at age 50, I dutifully went for my annual, asked for a mammogram. The doctor did not detect anything in August. The mammogram performed in September was negative. By October 25, 2010 I had Stage 3 breast cancer. Color me shocked. When my nipple inverted, right after my “all clear”, that was when I had fear, and anger, of course, because the industry system—the pink message—failed me. Some would say that I should be grateful that I was not so full of fear prior to cancer, because detecting my cancer a bit earlier may not have changed treatment much—most likely I’d have still had my nipple removed—but I would like to have avoided the chemo or radiation if an earlier detection made it possible. I am not sure how I feel about all this.

So I ask myself what the hell am I so afraid of right now?

  • Recurrence, duh.
  • Another failed mammogram—misdiagnosis  
  • I’m afraid of wine, of all delicious foods, because I want them, and they allegedly cause cancer and every other health problem.
  • I’m afraid that as a dog walker who walks by pesticide treated lawns several times a day that I am causing a return of cancer, or a new cancer, in myself. I guess I could control that by quitting my job, but then how would I pay for cancer? Which leads to…
  • I’m afraid that if/when cancer comes back, I will not be able to afford treatment, so I will likely die, and there seems little I can do about that. You could say I should not have quit my job which had better insurance (co-pays are sometimes more than twice as much with my new government plan), but honestly, I am not sure I would have survived if I’d stayed in that job, it stressed me so much. 
  • I’m afraid my friends and family will get cancer. Hell, I’m afraid anyone else will—especially young women. Because there is so little REAL investigation into prevention, and the cause still seems to be mostly unknown.  And I blog and fuss and try to learn to be a health advocate because I actively do not want another young woman to go through what I went through, but I know I can’t prevent it. This is helplessness as fear.

Is shock at getting unexpected cancer worse than being afraid prior to getting it? I cannot ever know the answer to that question. I just don’t want ANYONE else to feel that shock, because it does not eliminate the fear that comes after. I mean, now I just have both fear and shock (and oh yeah, anger), and I’m not sure I like that. I don’t know if that is better or worse.

So what about all this alleged fear-mongering perpetrated by pink medical industry? Yes, I do think it is wrong when done just to drive profits. But from where I’m standing, the fear is reasonable….because I got cancer. And others under the age 40, with little to no risk factors will get it too. And no one knows which one of these young women will “get lucky”, because we have no prevention, no understanding of causes. These women should be afraid but they just don’t know it yet. I just don’t know how else to say it.

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Author: Cancer Curmudgeon

Oct 2010 diagnosed with Stage 3, HER2+ Breast Cancer. Completed treatment Jan 2012. Waaaaaay over pink. Applying punk rock sensibility to how I do cancer.

3 thoughts on “FEAR”

  1. Excellent post. I totally understand these fears. I have them too. A mammogram missed my tumor, and I was lucky to find mine during a monthly self-exam. I was scared each time I performed the self-exam because, let’s face it, why are we doing these exams? To look for cancer. Better screening methods than mammograms are in order.

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    1. Thanks, it was not an easy post to write. Felt like I was defending and supporting the idea and the article while poking it in the eye at the same time…hope it does not come off that way. Its like, I KNOW pink is manipulating me with fear, but on the other hand…clearly I have something to fear, ya know, ’cause I got me some cancer for a while there…it’s a puzzle for this chemo-addled brain.

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