A/N: This post will address my discomfort with what I perceive as the way Mother’s Day is now linked with breast cancer. I’ve read a few blog posts about mothers recently, and I think I’m in the minority with my discomfort at this association (again, maybe this is just what I see). I can only speak from where I stand: a woman with breast cancer who is not a mother, whose own mother does not yet have breast cancer, and who was my primary care-giver during cancer. I realize several bloggers I read had mothers who died of breast cancer, and as I do not, so I can only empathize. I hope this post communicates empathy, and is not tone deaf.
That said, I will try to be delicate, but I still think this post will offend some readers. Please proceed with caution, or maybe don’t read.
Later March through mid-May now mirrors October for me, in my Mid-Atlantic American resort area. I cannot get down a street or open a local paper without seeing a poster-sized advertisement for some race, walk, softball game, or other activity to benefit local breast cancer organizations.
In many ways, Pink invading this time of year makes more sense than October. Pink is often associated with springtime. The days are usually warm—great for races or outdoor games. Plus, so many harvest/back-to-school/holiday season events happen at the end of the year, I suspect moving breast cancer races to springtime means less competition from those other events (this may only be true in my region, I don’t know). As I wrote about wanting to reclaim October last fall, I wondered why October is designated as Breast Cancer Awareness Month; I thought a spring month would be more appropriate. I think I used good ol’ Google, and never got a full answer. Or maybe I’m just being wishful—I hate Pink painted all over my beloved golds and oranges—so a BCAM move to a spring would be a relief in my view. *My apologies to those reading who are not in the Northern Hemisphere, for my American seasonal POV here.
Some of the shenanigans associated with the local fundraisers this year are the topic of maybe another post, but I’m grappling with another painful area right now. What is bothering me is the linking of Mother’s Day to breast cancer.
I noticed it last year, in March, when I got a post-card from a local breast cancer organization regarding a project of sending photos and/or stories about Mom. Of course, there was also the suggestion of a donation in mom’s name for the holiday. I got the same card again this spring, too. As far as I could tell, the moms to be honored need not be breast cancer patients, I think—but to be honest, I did not look too deep into it; I found it too disturbing. My quick scan of the website led me to a donations page, and another suggestion of donations in anyone’s honor for any holiday—including Father’s Day. I admit I was impressed by that—finally an acknowledgement that men can get breast cancer, however indirect that acknowledgement. Donating in honor of someone for a gift can be positive, if done wisely and so long the honoree’s charitable giving preferences are respected. But only a donation in honor of Mother’s Day warrants extra special attention, I see.
So it isn’t the money that is necessarily bothering me (too much) in this situation. Perhaps this post is me trying to put my finger on just what is bothering me about the fact I keep seeing the words: mom/mother and breast cancer together on one page so much lately.
There is a subtle whiff of marketing of course. I understand non-profits need to seize every opportunity to make money. It’s just, why the automatic leap that seems to go like this: mothers = women = women’s issues/health = breast cancer, so suddenly the holiday becomes all about breast cancer? Perhaps my view is too narrow here; I did not investigate organizations for ovarian or any other cancers, to see if there were campaigns to fundraise to honor one’s mother.
But it wasn’t just local breast cancer support organizations that seemed to link mothers to breast cancer for holiday festivities—local and national media linked the two as well. I opened the Sunday paper, and the magazine insert featured Christina Applegate and her mother, both famous breast cancer survivors. Why not feature them in October? Why not feature, I don’t know, a successful mother and daughter-owned business—as in, something women achieved rather than had to deal with? Or a mother and daughter both with any other cancer? I mean, any gynecological cancer would’ve been appropriate for Mother’s Day, right? Or are those diseases not common enough to suit everyone’s needs? Well, that argument doesn’t work—I’ve pointed out enough on this blog about how awareness advocates for diseases such as lung cancer and heart disease use breast cancer to point out how these diseases harm more women than breast cancer (Want Attention? Just Say Breast Cancer). So why no cover story of a mother and daughter team taking measures to prevent hereditary heart disease? As more intelligent women than I have long pointed out—why is breast cancer a stand-in for all women’s health?
I turned on the local news that night, and a woman who overcame a number of odds—widowhood, breast cancer—to return to school for her degree was featured. The cynic in me wondered if they started by looking for this news story by researching local “older” college graduates who were moms, or did they start at breast cancer support organizations to find her.
Is having breast cancer a prerequisite to be considered a mother worthy of honor? Is breast cancer the one and only threat to health and well-being of mothers all over? Is overcoming breast cancer the only achievement women can be publicly lauded for? Because that seems to be the message the media gave out that day, in my view.
Again, I cannot stress enough that I do not want to be insensitive here. Much is written about hereditary breast cancer—because breast cancer has that family link, even for this Cancer Curmudgeon, so it is natural for this mother-daughter + breast cancer topic to be written about. And most of the bloggers I read acknowledged the deaths caused by all hereditary cancers.
So maybe what is making me uncomfortable is this.
My mother’s mother had breast cancer at the very end of her life, over a decade ago. It went untreated because she was in the process of dying of heart disease. Then in 2010, my mother watched her youngest sister, that she cared for as if she were her own child, get breast cancer around age 50. A few months later her own, only child (yours truly), got breast cancer. My mother has had enough of breast cancer. I know there is no such thing as a trade off in the world of cancer (wrote about this a long time ago)—just because everyone around her has had breast cancer does not make her exempt. And that is what frustrates me so much. I was constantly barraged with subtle or direct messages over the past few weeks that seemed hell bent on making me understand something I am only too aware of: mothers get breast cancer. Breast cancer is a clear and constant threat to us, and we cannot ever get away from it.
My mother should be honored because she had to, and still has to, put up with my whiny, angry, annoying breast cancer patient self. Hell, my mother should be honored for putting up with the annoying person I was before breast cancer. So I honored her by shutting up about breast cancer all day on Sunday.
I’ve been tied up in knots about writing this post. I know that many women have had mothers and/or grandmothers die because of breast cancer and I do not mean to imply that their pain should be ignored—of course Mother’s Day is difficult. But it is also difficult for anyone whose mother is no longer alive for any reason; something a friend’s story reminded me of sadly last Sunday. I could not help but wonder if there were adult children out there, again resentful of breast cancer being shoved down throats on that day just as it is in October. I mean, it only stands to reason that this would happen, given the backlash to breast cancer that is happening in other cancer organization campaigns (Pancreatic Cancer Action PSA, anyone?). Are other children perceiving a message that their own mother’s lives were somehow less significant because they had/have other cancers or challenges? And I very much resented the fact that a day meant to honor and celebrate, for me, was under a cloud of cancer, the same cloud I see nearly every damn day.
So I took one day off from cancer. And I want an end to ALL cancers. I’ll take that any day, it doesn’t need to be saved for a holiday.