Did You?

Did you smoke, and for how long?

Did you drink, how much, how often?

Did you have kids?

Did you use a tanning bed?

Did you even try to lose weight?

Did you take hormones or the Pill?

Did you eat enough blueberries?

Did you eat tomatoes?

Did you eat meat?

Did you buy organic?

Did you eat a lot of sugar?

Because if you have cancer, you did it to yourself.

Several days ago, Dr. Otis Brawley of the American Cancer Society wrote on some news site that most cancers are preventable and made bullet points of the usual laundry list of prevention measures. He did not say that everyone, or me personally, Curmudgeon Q. Cancer Patient, had brought cancer upon themselves/myself. But I still feel a zing when I read or hear this sort of thing. I am still trying to figure out why I get that zing.

Now, I know should avoid comments sections on mainstream news media sites. They cause me much stress—another cause of cancer, naturally. So why read them? Well, it does give a glimpse into how and what people think. Of course one person whose husband died from cancer protested the idea her husband brought it on himself, and another responded along the lines of: all these damn cancer patients are too sensitive, this article isn’t blaming them.

Ah there is the rub. Why are we sensitive? Well, because we get asked those questions I just listed at the start of this post, and more. A lot. Or at least I did. And yes, I brought some of the paranoia on myself, every time I looked at a magazine cover while waiting in line at the grocery store, each one touting some food I hate (fruits, including those cursed tomatoes) as a sure fire way to prevent cancer—and it usually says “prevent”, not “lower your risk”, at least on the cover, the story changes a bit on the pages inside.

Yes, I know, breast cancer patients are not blamed for their situation as much as lung cancer patients or people with heart disease. I just read another article about the latest mammography mess in which the journalist pondered how women think of heart disease as a result of bad behavior, while breast cancer is considered something bad that happens to women. I really have a hard time with this particular misperception that I see in articles more frequently than I’d like. Because from where I’m standing, when I got asked those questions, there was a flicker of a suggestion that this cancer did not just “happen”, but rather, I’d engaged in actions or non-actions that resulted in my getting cancer. I think that could be called blame.

I constantly see pieces linking smoking, and especially alcohol, to breast cancer. Yes I see it more than average folks because, you know, I had breast cancer, so I hone in on these items. But I am sure a few others are seeing it, and it is getting lodged at least in the subconscious. Well, OK, maybe not, given that most local breast cancer fundraisers in my small town are sponsored by bars and other businesses selling alcohol, and yes, alcohol is generally served, never mind all the chatter about alcohol causing breast cancer. Ugh, that is a post for another day.

It’s just that, for anyone to think most people, even on subconscious, unspoken levels, are not blaming the cancer patients, any cancer patients, for getting themselves into their fixes, it’s just…naïve. We must be blamed, we must endure those insulting “did you do this, did you not do that” questions. Some folks MUST blame us, because it is the only way they can assure themselves they’ll be safe from cancer. Anything they do that is different—eating, drinking, having kids—well, that is the get out of cancer free card, isn’t it? If only that were true.

What will it take to end the blame the patient game? Maybe cancer patients are too sensitive, but there is a reason. Too bad sensitivity isn’t transferable to others in need of it.

So, This Is Where Pink Has Taken Us

Don’t you hate that jackass that says “I told you so”? Then hate this jackass Cancer Curmudgeon. Most breast cancer bloggers I follow rightfully point out that the over saturation of Pink is the direct cause of the cancer envy on display in the Pancreatic Cancer Action PSA. But the envy is not new. I hope that this ad will wake up those folks who need to understand that Pink Ribbons have become insufferable. Here is what I said about it a few months ago (this is where “I told you so” comes into it).

What Do You Mean There Are OTHER Kinds of Cancer Besides Breast Cancer?!

Or: Shoving Pink Down Your Throat

Yes that title is sarcastic.

The topic I have not seen addressed much in breast cancer and Pink discussions is resentment patients with other types of cancer have towards all things Pink. It is possible it is being discussed and I’m not seeing it, however, given I can barely bring myself to read about this topic much lately. I find I’m unable to read even essays criticizing Pink; I cannot read another list of the outrageous products/corporations aligned with Pink, each pointing out a new lowest of the low in the most absurd use of Pink as marketing tool, most preposterous item turned pink. I can see it for myself on the rare occasions I venture into a store, or if I’m accidentally near a TV, or use the internet—which means seeing the ridiculousness is unavoidable.

I confess that in the past year or two I’ve been so swept up in my own resentment toward Pink that while I was vaguely aware that some patients with other kinds of cancer were also sick of Pink, it is only since maybe September I’ve begun to grasp the depth of the resentment, and yes, I think I even saw near-hatred the other night. It pops up on a variety of social media, and many are just expressions of frustration, questions as to why this or that colored ribbon/cancer doesn’t get as much attention, or exasperated reminders to not forget, well, name any cancer associated with whatever month, I’m afraid to try to list for fear of omission. One painful post from a patient with a gynecological cancer proclaimed October to be the time of year in which every day is devoted to telling the world only one kind of cancer matters. The phrase I see quite a bit from patients with other kinds of cancer is “shoved down our throats” in reference to Pink and pink ribbons.

This is what Pink has come to; some perceive it as edging out absolutely every other disease and cause in an obnoxious way, and one’s perception is his or her reality. It is not exactly clear who these patients hold responsible for all this shoving down of the throat. The pieces I’ve seen and read do not seem to differentiate between products with ribbons on them (the kind that claim to send a few pennies to a charity or the ones that just have a pink ribbon with no such claim), pink parade-like races, or people wearing anything from tiny pink ribbon pins to head to toe pink-logoed ensembles. Perhaps it appears all the same to the very frustrated. Well, one delightfully profane post did flat out accuse some folks of slacktivism in matters of pink clothing and accessory choices.

I highly doubt it was the intention to detract attention from other cancers or issues, but it happened, now what’s to be done about it? Why should these patients with other kinds of cancer—being overwhelmed with their own diagnosis, and underwhelmed with support systems or websites catering to information about other kinds of cancer—make the differentiations mentioned above? Is it fair to expect those who bewilderedly ask, “why does Pink get all the attention?” to seek out the answers that have been written about mostly in breast cancer related articles, such as the lucrativeness of Pink and the juvenile enjoyment society gets from talking about boobies? Is it right for a breast cancer patient to complain about Pink and all the so-called wrong kinds of attention it attracts, when all these other cancers get little to no attention, and want the attention and more importantly, the funding for research that goes with a stupid colored ribbon?

While I may be a jackass, my aim here is NOT be so insufferable as to presume to speak for those with other kinds of cancers. Even if I were to now get another type of cancer, I’ve already had breast cancer, so to society, I am inextricably linked to that damn pink ribbon, no matter how much I scream and stomp on it to reject it. And anyway, I am incapable of speaking for anyone else at all; I’m barely able to speak for myself half the time. But I’m still not always able to shut my mouth.


Since diagnosis I’ve been aware that the cancer center at which I was treated bathed the building in pink light each night in October. It annoyed me before, but this year, reading about all of the throat shoving, I think differently. I do not know why the lights are turned pink this month, there are no signs outside the building proclaiming fundraising goals or awareness slogans. It is a small town cancer center—no research or breakthroughs to benefit all breast cancer patients the world over are going to happen there. I’ve inquired about the reason in my comments to the center I made recently. I do not understand the need for breast cancer awareness…at a cancer center, for crying out loud. A building that exists as a place to treat cancer patients is the epitome of all cancer awareness. Thus, a pink light becomes overkill, a pink light becomes the favoring of patients with breast cancer—their lives? their money?—over all other cancer patients, a pink light becomes the shoving of a cause down many gagging throats.

Perhaps I am the only one of thousands of patients treated at that cancer center that has interpreted the pink light this way. Perhaps others do see it that way and just don’t care, or don’t think it worthwhile to say anything and I’m sure I come off as another “selfish” breast cancer patient biting the hand that feeds. But, unless that light is doing something other than just doing the same old “breast cancer awareness” where awareness is needed least, I cannot help but think it is a bit insensitive to patients with other kinds of cancer. I have a hard time believing I’m the only one thinking this, and maybe my complaint combined with others can get attention and make a change. But I’m a Cancer Curmudgeon, a misanthrope, a socially awkward grouch always saying the wrong thing, so I doubt it. I do not like putting much effort into something that doesn’t produce visible results, which is why I’m so frustrated this year that given all the activity by those criticizing Pink, like that Orenstein article, there has been little to no reduction in Pink silliness (at least in my area). I do not feel good about myself for speaking up; I don’t even know right now what drove me to do it. But I don’t really regret it either, even if it was not my place to say anything.

I wish everyone pushing Pink would become less obtuse about the scorn, frustration, and ill-will it now provokes. Awareness is a two way street, maybe it is time to re-assess this old pink ribbon to see if it really is still working. Some folks are oversaturated with it, and others are still clueless about too many aspects of breast cancer. I’ve written about that before (Failure of Awareness), and maybe will again. I see comments saying something like those complaining about Pink cannot deny how effective it is. Effective at what? The stats as to whether breast cancer incidence and related deaths have been reduced, increased (falsely inflated by classification of DCIS), or remained the same have been covered by others, and I’m not qualified to go into that. But the fact remains people still get breast cancer, I still got it, people still die, and while the treatments, especially Herceptin, developed as a result of Pink dollars and awareness (YES, I GET IT, and I AM grateful) keep me alive, for how long? The same problem is still here, just more people know about it and it is acceptable to talk about it. And they know about it and talk about it to the exclusion of every other cancer.

And what will be the fall-out from the undercurrent of Pink resentment from the patients with other cancers? As much as TV medical talking heads like to point out that heart disease and lung cancer impact more people, breast cancer still occurs in a hell of a lot of people, meaning there are too many potential customers willing to buy treatment and Pink crap for Pink to lose any power. And c’mon, how will our culture ever ignore boobies? So the backlash may not get anywhere, but that does not mean this resentment should be ignored.

Want Attention? Just Say Breast Cancer

2/7/14 edit & author’s note: When I write, I assume readers are residents of cancer land and are aware of the latest, um, “dramas”, that are going on in cancer land. But that is unfair, and I’ve been made aware that I should include links to what I am ranting on about. I’m reluctant to do that most of the time because I don’t always want to give something that annoys me more access for more clicks–especially in this situation, because what I’m writing about here is the dubious methods employed for getting attention! But my desire to be clear about what has driven me to write about any topic wins out, so here is a link to the Salon article that made me aware of the Pancreatic Cancer Action PSA, and the PSA itself can be watched there as well. Happy viewing!

color pink

What is the best way to push your agenda? Just say breast cancer.

You can push your questionable prevention advice with this fear-mongering because everyone will listen. (I ranted about that a lot last summer, if you enjoy rants: 1, 2, & 3, all about how one report used fear of breast cancer in a title to talk about something else, and yes, I acknowledged even then that I was contributing to the attention.)

You can insist that your disease is more important because it kills more people than breast cancer—I’m looking at you, most heart disease-and-women campaigns. February is almost as annoying as October, since everyone honks about breast cancer to highlight how heart disease kills more women than breast cancer. As if everyone was not already tired of the phrase breast cancer. Because the only way to advocate one cause is to smack another down, apparently.

You can imply all your cancers are worse because of lack of funding and awareness because the Big Pink Ribbon Bully stole all the attention. As I’ve said before, breast cancer is a bully that is now being bullied—payback is a bitch. Everyone is tired of all the attention breast cancer gets, yet no one will shut up about it, myself included.

I’d like to say the best way to handle the pancreatic cancer PSA is to ignore it, because the backlash and buzz is drawing attention—no doubt that is exactly what is desired. It just proves my point: want attention? Just say breast cancer.

But ignoring it is wrong. Of course pancreatic cancer needs attention. And frankly, I have heard or seen people with other cancers comment that they wish they had breast cancer, instead. I don’t presume to know why, but I can guess. So the statement in the ad was no big surprise.

But I’ve also read one blogger’s thankfulness to have a gynecological cancer rather than breast cancer (sorry cannot remember who or where, cannot locate), because of all the silliness and sexualization around breast cancer, knowing she’d loathe the pink ribbon even more if she had breast cancer. She’s glad that at least her cancer is taken seriously. So there’s that too.

This is why I hate all the colored ribbons—it just creates a divided cancer gang land. Gotta be true to your colors. No thanks. People are sick and jealous of the attention breast cancer and Pink hogs (see What Do You Mean There Are OTHER Kinds of Cancer Besides Breast Cancer?!). Understand why Pink is doing more harm than good yet? Understand why Pink-coated-everything has got to stop? Understand why that ribbon does not represent this breast cancer patient?

When I was treated for breast cancer, I was not ushered into a separate room with pink champagne, cupcakes, feather  boas, and a party atmosphere. I slogged it out with patients with all kinds of other cancers. Just because so many people think they know all about breast cancer (NO) because they’ve seen a few Pink ads, breast cancer patients still have to get the same (slightly better than past years) slash, poison, and burn treatments many other cancer patients get. What non-breast cancer patients are NOT aware of is the fact that there is a good chance it will come back and kill me—I’ve heard that twice in the past several weeks from two different doctors who are involved in my cancer care. That is Pink’s dirty little secret: breast cancer still makes a person sick, the treatment is still horrible, and it still kills.

Dead is dead, regardless if it is from pancreatic, breast, prostate, or ANY cancer. Can the conversation, the message, the fall-out, from the PSA be an understanding of this simple notion?

No, because I’m sure there will be a segment of people thinking breast cancer patients, with our alleged advantages, should just stop whining, stop stealing pancreatic cancer’s thunder, stop insisting we have it just as bad, because in their eyes, we don’t have it as bad, no matter what we say. Because I know folks with mets breast cancer, or other cancers, have thought me lucky. I’ve thought it myself. I wrestle with it all the time. So should I shut up about this PSA? Is this what breast cancer patients should keep in mind before talking about this PSA?

At any rate, the PSA worked, because it invoked breast cancer. Attention, guaranteed.

Thank you Pancreatic Cancer Action, for reminding this breast cancer patient to not shut up about the horribleness of all and any cancer, equally. Thank you for reminding everyone just how much work there is to do, for highlighting just how badly Pink has failed in conveying the gravity of getting a breast cancer diagnosis, and for showing how un-classy it is to smack another down to lift your own self up.

Not Behind Me, Woven Into Me

“I don’t think anyone ever gets over anything in life; they merely get used to it.” – Douglas Coupland

In my view, cancer is a two-headed monster. There is the actual disease, the medical condition, to be dealt with as best possible, hopefully to ultimately achieve a NED status. Then there is the other head. I don’t know what to call this head, other than the culture of cancer, which angers and repulses me for the most part. For me this includes everything from the warrior metaphors, the fuzzy-wuzzy, airy-fairy “hope-believe” and tyranny of positive thinking that I do not buy into, and the supposed path a cancer patient is to complete: one of getting treated, taking advantage of the personal growth and enrichment opportunity by learning lessons and accepting cancer as a gift (how do those poor saps who do not get the gift of cancer ever grow to be better people—YES I’M BEING SARCASTIC), and then putting cancer behind once treatment is all done. There is probably more I’m just not thinking of right now.

**Side note: I’ve written about much of the above before, and my feelings and opinions have changed little. See list of related posts at the end.

It is that last notion, the one in which “now that I am done with treatment I am supposed to be over cancer” that is chasing its own tail in my head.

From the day I learned I had cancer, the idea that I’d ever be over cancer just did not make sense. How can one get past cancer? The biggest obstacle to that lofty goal is the constant fear, however sharp and present or dull and distant it is, that cancer will come back—it is always there. Not to mention that I will always have to ‘fess up to having had it, when getting new medical care providers or insurance, or who knows what else; I always have to check that box in medical history. Cancer is my history, and history has everything to do with the present. Continue reading “Not Behind Me, Woven Into Me”

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