Part 2—In Which I Do Not Cool Down Later

I suppose normal people get mad about something, and then cool down about an issue as more time passes. Not so for the curmudgeon. I wrote the previous post in a fit of white hot anger. I went off. I blew a gasket. And a million other clichés anyone can think of. One would think that after 12 hours have passed, my hot head would’ve cooled down. Nope. If anything, my head is hotter.

I wrote from my narrow minded own point of view. That “Time” post contained some—for lack of a better word, triggers—for me. I get so tired every Mother’s Day, the women who’ve chosen to not have children write blog posts or news articles defending their decision. Well, I like reading these pieces, it makes me feel like less of a freak for my own stance. I just hate the way these things pop up every May in an almost defensive “I chose not to have children and that’s ok, I’m not just some sad, unfulfilled woman crying this whole day” way that irks me. I used to think not having kids was a normal, logical choice for myself. With each passing year, I feel more and more as if I’m viewed as some kind of radical, sticking my middle finger up at society by not procreating. Well, yeah, I often am sticking up my middle finger, but in lots of ways for lots of reasons, not child related!

The other trigger is the focus on estrogen positive cancers, ignoring HER2 positives. I actually understand that a bit; only 20% are HER2 positive, so naturally most conversations or information about breast cancer will be about the majority, as maybe it should be. Come to think of it, I marvel at the invention of Herceptin. I cannot believe Big Pharma went out to make a drug for such a small part of a lucrative market (gonna have to read up on the history of that drug). But hey, that drug is the third top seller of all cancer drugs (see here), so I guess I shouldn’t feel bad for the poor ol’ drug companies (YES, being VERY sarcastic). I imagine the sophisticated marketing plan discussion for the drug boiled down to “hey we are only going to be able to get a portion of these desperate women (read breast cancer patients), I know, let’s charge the shit out the women who want this drug!”

But this morning I put myself in the shoes of women who had kids and got hit by cancer…especially estrogen positive cancer. Or wanted kids, and have been denied the chance to have them because of cancer. Or are indeed estrogen positive and chose not to have kids. How do these women feel? If any of these women interpreted the “Time” post the way I did, (that having a baby and breastfeeding it for a year is a way to prevent breast cancer, and if you got breast cancer because you didn’t do this you deserve it, and you’ve put a burden on public health), what must these women feel? If you are such a woman, reading this, I welcome comments (to me, to others, have a conversation here if you want, let loose, I LOVE that). I hesitate to speak for any such woman. I’ve done so before (here), in putting myself in the shoes of those who get so-called unnecessary mastectomies, because I can understand it, although I got the “approved” lumpectomy instead. (Still cannot believe I did that, I fall into so many small percentages regarding cancer, I don’t think the “low probability of breast cancer returning in same or other breast” as doctors like to yammer on about can actually apply to me. I had less than half a percent of a chance of getting cancer before 40 and I did, so you over there with your low stats bullshit, bite me.)

So thoughts on this topic—let ‘em rip, because I want to know. And thanks Cancer In My Thirties, for making me view it another way!

In the meantime, my challenge to the two doctors (Dr. Kathleen Marinelli, MD and Dr. Melissa C. Bartick, MD) quoted in the “Time” post regarding how breast cancer can be prevented by breast feeding: Good job on finding a prevention that many of us are so desperate for. Now, figure out a way to take that knowledge and turn it into another preventative method. Not every woman is cut out to be a mother, and they should not feel like not fulfilling their biological imperative will kill them.

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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.

22 thoughts on “Part 2—In Which I Do Not Cool Down Later”

  1. My mother died of metastatic breast cancer, she breast fed four children which can be added to “Time” stats. I’m sure she did something else wrong, no she never drank a day in her life, she was not affluent, blah blah blah. I have estrogen + breast cancer so kill me I never breast fed.

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  2. Reblogged this on My Eyes Are Up Here and commented:
    I gave birth, breast fed, and discovered that I had ER/PR positive breast cancer at age 46.

    The Time article only annoys me because it is poorly written and gives the impression that it will explain the link between breast feeding and breast cancer risk.

    Prevention typically involves many factors, some of which may apply to you and some of which do not. Breast feeding doesn’t eliminate breast cancer. It reduces the likelihood, but not to zero. And risk factors don’t guarentee cancer. There are few people who would deny that cigarette smoking is a major risk factor for lung cancer but there are always those who will defy the odds.

    I still think the research field described in Time article is useful. There are women who want to breast feed but work full time and do not have a private place to so or are unable to afford pumping equipment. Public health research

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  3. Aw, now you’ve got me pissed off too! I had one child and breast fed her 11 months, till she weaned me. It didn’t protect me from ER+ breast cancer, stage IV at that. And it sure doesn’t make life with cancer any easier. Besides, I’m sure it was the lack of exercise and extra 20 pounds that caused my cancer. Yeah, sure.

    I. Hate. The. Blame. Game.

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    1. Awww, didn’t want my pissed-off-ness to infect others, sorry! I’m sure researchers would say that all of this (your case and others here) are anecdotal and don’t count. But I always say behind every stat is a person, same goes for anecdotes, which are simply the stats in the smaller percentage anyway, right? We faces behind the stats are the patients and we matter.
      The blame game is tricky business. I once read a bit in which a guy talked about how those of us seeking environmental causes behind breast cancer were just unwilling to accept personal responsibility for our cancer (I navigated away from it, was so angry, and no idea how to find out who it was or even to find the quote again). I’d accept it if it could be proven beyond a doubt it was this one thing I did or didn’t do that caused my cancer, but that is not possible yet is it?
      Until then, I will keep asking for answers, and keep enjoying talking to all of you who reach out to me.

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  4. Ugh, I need to stop commenting from my smart phone. I posted my reply before I finished it. Here goes:

    Public health research often informs policy such as rights in the workplace. If an argument can be made that by not supporting women’s breast feeding in the workplace that am employer may be increasing her risk of developing breast cancer, it makes a stronger argument for changing work place laws. And there really are populations of people domestically and internationally who do not breast feed when they might choose to if they had accurate information about the potential benefits both to their children and to themselves.

    As a former researcher, I guess I have the advantage of knowing that each research group is taking on a relatively small part of a question because that is all that can be managed by a single research group. And I know that although the long-term goal of prevention is to eliminate disease, there are no easy ways to do this because there are so many factors that contribute to a set of diseases like breast cancer. But reducing risk is valuable from both a population perspective or in my own case, from a personal perspective. I take a lot of steps to reduce risk of recurrence–exercise, mindfulness meditation (and yes, I remember your post about that), and diet. I may get cancer again, anyway. I’m not happy about this. But I do feel better when I exercise, meditate, eat well, etc so it is worth the effort.

    I don’t want to try to read your mind, but based on your blog, it sounds like you feel really marginalized and isolated. Plus, it is entirely unfair to get cancer, especially so early in life. I am so sorry that you’ve had to deal with this completely and utterly nasty disease. I am glad that you are active in the blog community and hope that you are getting positives out of it.

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    1. Holy crap, you wrote all that using a smart phone?! My fingers must be too fat!

      I understand that the research and the article is about trying to get space/time for women to breastfeed in regards to employment (as I stated in the previous post), but the headline is deceptive (see the next post), in that media and some health advocates just like to take a shortcut and scream “breast cancer” to forward their cause. Pretty much any time breast cancer causes/prevention get into an article, all the nuances will NOT be addressed; the only people who will “get it” are people with a medical background such as yourself or fellow patients. All the info you included in your comment would never make it into a sensationalized piece like the Time post or if it did, only cancer patients would care or read it.

      There are a great many outrageous issues regarding rights in the workplace (like providing a living wage, yes I was an Ehrenreich fan even before I got cancer and read her breast cancer essay/chapter), including time/space for breastfeeding, and not nearly enough action is being done to change it (that is a topic for blogs I follow, but nothing I’m equipped or willing to discuss). And it is not as if this cancer-breast feeding link is new, I’d heard it before (as stated in previous post), for me it was a case of– here we go again (as is most of my reactions to news items). I don’t care about breast feeding and even I knew the benefits of it (not just the prevents cancer part, either) because the message is out there already. It seems a lot like some of the alcohol/diet/exercise messages in cancer: the message is repeated over and over and over to the same people, but whole other target audiences are missed repeatedly. (Again, see next post). I’m just tired of the same issues like breastfeeding benefits and alcohol causes cancer getting researched and reported over and over as if it is a brand new idea. It’s like, move on! Or at least, market this info to those who are not getting the message already. Oh, right, the ones not getting the message usually don’t have money, that is why marketing strategies never bothered to include that audience or learned how to reach it.

      It is great that you do all you can to feel better, and understand that cancer may or may not return based (or not) on your actions of diet, exercise, etc. I suspect that most patients recognize the same, but I’ve seen blog content and comments since I started blogging that makes me think otherwise.

      Nope, you did not read my mind.

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  5. Everytime I see mention of the whole “breastfeeding prevents breast cancer” crap I curse quietly. After all, I am a woman who breastfed three children, just like they recommended. And, I still got breastcancer!

    No idea where their stats come from, but they didn’t fit me – or any of the other women I have met in person or online who breastfed their children, and still got breastcancer.

    In fact, I have come across a number of women who have said that their breastcancer tumor developed in the same breast and area that they had problems with during breastfeeding. I am one of those. My breast tumor was in the same breast that used to not have a good milk supply. And it was in the same spot that used to get “tender” when I breastfed…

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    1. OK, you’re the second one in hours to tell me of difficult breast feeding, and then cancer (see previous post, comments by cancer in my thirties). Color me officially alarmed at that.
      As I’ve noted in other comments, I know your story would be considered anecdotal and therefore would not “count”, but I disagree. I’m starting to think nothing sucks more that doing it all “right”, be it breastfeeding, not drinking, exercise maniac, and still getting hit with cancer.
      I get that the article was to promote rights and encouragement for breast feeding moms and that’s cool. But breast cancer was the smallest benefit according to the article, and guess what got into the headline? See my next post.

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      1. Hmmm. Thinking on this… I am a cancer clinical trial coordinator. A study on this would initially be a questionnaire. I’m seriously thinking on this now. Might go do some background research and see if anyone has done it before. I’ll be back!

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  6. Wow this has really stirred the pot judging by all the comments….. Why do doctors come out with these useless statements.. I was told if I had taken the Pill I would not have cancer of Uterus.. !!!!!!!

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    1. Take the Pill to stave off cancer in your Uterus? I’ve never heard that (note to self, Google later). Sounds backwards.
      While I did not want everyone else to be upset, I’m also glad I’m not the only one that reacted to the article. I always paraphrase Parker and say if you don’t have anything cheery and pink to say, come sit next to me (or visit my blog).

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  7. Another good post. And obviously one that evokes strong emotions. Thanks for the nod to my viewpoint!
    P.S. I know it’s only related to a snippet of your post but I wanted to mention that I, too, being strongly HER2 positive, have also marveled at the invention of Herceptin when we are in the minority. Thank goodness it was developed, of course, but there must be something to that story? I plan to google it’s history now (but I’d honestly rather just wait ’til you post about it!).

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    1. Caught the Herceptin bit did you? I guess that was running around my mind and just popped out before I even knew I was bothered about it. I found that link via an article by Pink Ribbon Blues (the blog and the article about medical costs in Psychology Today).
      I’m almost afraid to tackle Herceptin; I am grateful for/to it, and know there is probably something about it’s deal that will irritate me (I’m a curmudgeon after all). But I will get there, when I feel prepared to tug at that thread.

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      1. I know, sometimes it’s just better not to know. But I never learn — my restless mind always wants to know the truth!
        I suspect you know a thing or twelve about that! 😉
        I’m sure I’ll have a comment when you do tackle that post.

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  8. First, I have to tell you that I absolutely love your blog title! And all your blogs about the Time Magazine’s article are spot on. As you so rightly said, the problems with the article begin right with its (completely outrageous) title, “More Breast-Feeding Could Save Billions and Prevent Thousands of Breast Cancer Cases.” I and my husband also had decided not to have kids for many reasons. (Just when we actually toyed with the idea of changing our minds on that, wham! I found out that I couldn’t thanks to chemo I’d had many years before.) So it also royally pisses me off that everyone thinks our choice to be child-free is such a “strange” one. But even more so, I am SO sick of the repeated implications that our breast cancer is our fault.

    There was one quote in the article that really set me on edge. After Bartick states the need to support women to breast-feed longer, she says, “There are thousands of needless cases of disease and death that could be prevented.” Are there “needed cases” of disease and death? I know many may say that I’m getting a bit picky there and needlessly harsh, but words matter.

    Another thing that greatly bothered me about the article was the following from the author, Rochman: “Detractors, of course, may pooh-pooh the simulation aspect of the study. And even Bartick notes that it’s impossible to know for sure if breast-feeding itself causes less disease or if women who breast-feed simply have healthier habits. The grant, from the W.K. Kellogg Foundation, helped fund a ‘causal inference expert’ who advised the researchers on whether they could accurately claim that breast-feeding was affecting disease risk and was not simply an association. ‘His opinion was there was enough evidence to suggest it was causal,’ says Bartick.” So the author is essentially trying to defuse those who dare to question these conclusions by saying that those oh-so-silly detractors OF COURSE may pooh-pooh” the conclusions. (Did she really use the word “pooh-pooh”?! How insulting–and childishly defense–is that? 😉 I see a big red blinking arrow here that says “AGENDA”! But of course, I’m one of those silly “detractors,” so what I could possibly know? The author then, without realizing the irony, notes that the researchers went to an expert (shopped for an expert?) who assured them that, yes, they could “accurately claim that breast-feeding was affecting disease risk” and was “not simply an association.” This certainly suggests that the researchers recognized it really isn’t possible to conclude whether or not this IS simply an association. But oops, there I go again, being one of those pesky detractors. Bravo and thank you for your excellent blog posts! ~ Debra

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  9. Hi Debra–thanks for reading and commenting! I cannot believe I’ve not found your blog before, but that probably has to do with my easily distracted mind.
    Thanks for liking the blog title; if you have time and a tolerance for story-tellin’ read my post I Got the Female Trouble, it will explain the names and probably more than you’d ever want to know.
    And especially thank you for tackling the biggest chunk of the Time post, the actual study. I was out of my depth with that to address it in a meaningful way.
    As I’ve said in most comments here, I’ve no problem with the point of Time’s piece–women want time and space to breast feed–sounds great, I’m all for it. But the presentation is all wrong. I doubt they will address this error, but I can complain if I want!
    I look forward to further chats with you, further exploring your blog and some of the links you provided there. I’m always interested in why I see magazines saying the same things cause cancer (diet/exercise/alcohol/smoking) and don’t understand why I see them linked to a “new” report–not sure why proven causes keep getting re-studied.
    Thanks again for reading!-CC

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    1. Hi, CC! Thank you for pointing me to your earlier posts on your naming of the blog: I appreciate the blog names even more now, if possible! 😉 In the Northeast where I grew up, my relatives didn’t speak about “The” Cancer. BUT my older relatives in particular did have a special tone of voice—and I swear, even an accent!—that they reserved just for whispering about “Can-suh,” particularly the “female” kind. And I say whispering facetiously, since when they talked about “so-and-so in the neighborhood just learning from that nice young doctor that she had ‘Can-suh,’” their voices always carried much further than their regular volume ever did. 😉
      I also don’t take issue at all with the overall point of Time’s story concerning supporting women who want to have more time and space to ease breast-feeding. But in addition to a less-than-robust focus on the science, I’m bothered by the sensationalism that begins with the very headline—“…Could Save Billions and Prevent Thousands …!” with horns blaring, the didactic tone, the implied sense of blame, and the visions of shaking heads and “tsk, tsking” for those of us who do not want or are unable to breast feed and how we really should know better than to put the public health at risk. I also doubt that they will correct their errors, but I am SO glad that you shared your very important concerns here!
      I actually just began my blog not long ago, so I’m thrilled that you’ve visited and would greatly welcome any thoughts or suggestions you may have to share with this newby. 🙂
      I’m looking forward to additional chats with you as well: take care, and thanks again, CC!
      ~Debra

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  10. I applaud your decision not to have children. I knew I wanted to be a mother as strongly as you knew you did not, same for a good friend of mine who has felt many of the same things you’ve written.

    Herceptin, check. I had that for a year. I look forward to your research. As I wrote in a previous comment (sorry for the double dip)… I breastfed for 12 years total. I’m triple positive, and breast cancer is going to kill me. When I hear or read that breastfeeding prevents breast cancer my hackles go up… almost as high as when I read sugar is feeding my cancer.

    Thank you for ranting, writing, being… I love your blog!

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    1. Thank YOU for reading, commenting and loving my blog..means more than I could ever express (the punk rock breast cancer post explains why a little bit).
      I am fascinated at the women such as yourself who’ve commented, as I’m sure you’ve read, that they breast fed, and then got all kinds of breast cancer. I’m sure number crunchers would call these stories anecdotal, but I don’t care, they matter very much to me. Thanks for adding your story here, needs to be heard by all.

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      1. Thanks hon… yes, I read the other comments, it helps to read that we aren’t alone. I’m glad they matter to you, to me as well… Humans gathering “facts” about humans using a tiny percentage of a subset etc… all those numbers don’t mean a whole lot to me anymore. Thank you for pointing me to your awesome punk rock breast cancer post!

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