Cancer Patient or Blender?

Lots of folks are up in arms about the Komen video featuring a woman with Stage IV breast cancer, with all the invoking of the fight and “beat” cancer language and message. I’ve been trying to figure out why I’m not as fussed about it.

When I first started blogging and finding others who expressed the same views I had about cancer (as I’ve said in older posts, I was reeaallly in a cave while in treatment, back in 2010-12), I saw a phrase often invoked that went something like: only the positive stories reach the podium. I think it referred to the fact that all the women asked to speak at those endless walks and races for breast cancer (and other cancers maybe?) were usually early stage, had beaten cancer, and were spreading the message of think positive, early detection, blah blah blah. Therefore, those with Stage 4 were not invited, because of the anticipated unhappy ending in store for the speaker.

I’m not in the position to say if more metastatic patients are being asked to podiums these days. I am vaguely aware of the Today show hoo ha last October. This patient with martial arts in the video, is she the first Stage 4 patient featured in Komen ads? I don’t know. If so, it seems only the stage is what makes this ad any different. It is still the same old message of fight and be positive, because that is the only acceptable way to be a cancer patient. I tend to hate that message regardless of who is saying it, their stage of cancer, and whichever Pink organization is putting it out. I respectfully point out I have the advantage of not being Stage 4, so maybe my view is skewed.

I can’t say I dislike Komen any more than some of the other organizations with their save the ta-tas, be positive to win, and cancer is a sexy party attitudes. I’ve mentioned in previous posts I tend to get blinded and unable to discern one organization that pisses me off from another. Komen is just selling a message as a product: positive patients who are fighting, not giving up, are worthy of your investment dollars. Only the strong survive, or at least get invited to the podium. This martial arts video just seems like more of the same. Therefore the fight/I’m a winner speech was no more and no less annoying to me than any other. I cringe at the fact that I’ve heard that stuff so much I don’t even think of it as original. In my opinion, this is not a new low for Komen—just business as usual.

Perhaps some will think I am being crass to reduce this ad, and by extension the woman in it, to a product worthy of donation dollars. But I remember reading some back and forth in some comments on one of those endless Pinktober articles last year. One woman used the usual “don’t be so ungrateful” line in her comments, and in her argument pointed out that it was the positive messages that put Komen on the map, and got all those dollars that benefit even the Komen critics. Komen needed and still needs positive representatives to get those donations because no one likes a grumpy survivor! I don’t know if this commenter realized how much she was turning patients into objects for sale. No, wait, she was not doing that—the organizations do it. And maybe we patients do it to ourselves?

This is not a new thought to me. I’ve often thought that if I should get a recurrence and need to use some crowdsourcing site to pay for my care, my Curmudgeon shtick would not rake in the donor dollars. I’m too pragmatic with my “hey, the treatment might work, but there is/was always the chance of metastasis, of death.” Like, “hey this blender might work, but it might totally fall apart.” The difference is the blender is cheaper and the buyer can get a warranty and replacement. There are no warranties with treatment, only odds of the treatment working, of survival. Of course, that is the very reason dollars are needed for research—to create those guarantees. (Is that irony? Paging Alanis Morissette!)  But that is a point too hard to sell in a catchy video with t-shirt.

I’ll stop there. I’ve thought about this topic often and have stopped myself every time. I’ve been too chicken to write about this treatment-as-investment concept, and maybe I’ll never address it again. It is repulsive to think of and discuss, although that does not mean it should not be discussed. I’m just not sure I am the person to do it; it requires people with backgrounds in marketing, economics, sociology, etc. I am just a cancer patient who feels like a defective product, since I cannot shill the message the organizations want to sell.

So, to me, the martial arts video is no different than the dancing mastectomy woman, or the celebrity recently throwing a goodbye boobs party. They are doing cancer their way, which is their right, of course. It also happens to be the way the rest of the world wants to see, and to impose on ALL patients. And again, I balk at this persistent, ubiquitous image (I link to my old post about that once again). Meanwhile, I wrestle with my anxiety that should I need crowdsourcing, how do I turn myself into an attractive blender to get those donor dollars?

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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.

19 thoughts on “Cancer Patient or Blender?”

  1. So here’s an idea: let’s do an event where, you, me and other like-minded cancer patients tell it like it is. You know…one of those “conversations with” situations/panel discussions. I wonder what our sponsorship roster and attendance will look like?

    Just found out last week that, multiple surgeries (including two HIPEC) and two courses of chemo over the past three years notwithstanding, I will have to go back on chemo in the coming months. So, I’m sure that between that – and my positive attitude – the third time will be the charm. 🙂

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  2. What I find so ironic is that because of these cheery uplifting videos people think that we should all be like that. All happy and cheery. As a breast cancer survivor stage 1 and a thyroid cancer stage III (survivor ??? Who knows) I’m not happy and dancing -my own daughter tells me to buck up and “deal with it”. I am horrified. Between those who want you dancing and those who are afraid you are catching I find life with ANY kind of cancer sucks. Curmudgeon your blog reaches all of us with any type of cancer and I enjoy reading the words that are the same as those in my own head. Thank you.

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    1. Funny, isn’t NOT being cheery also a valid way of “dealing with it”–it just is not the way that pleases others. And why should it please others. Hmmm. Sorry to hear that you get that from your own daughter–but I guess it kind of fits. I’m this way (a curmudgeon who airs her gripes) and my own mother is a think positive type. Is this another child-parent thing, you think? Hmmm.

      Anyway, I’m glad you enjoy reading my stuff. This one was hard to write. I almost did not post it, out of fear. So, thanks for encouraging words.

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  3. As a stage 3 breast cancer person (I do not like fighter, survivor) etc. I understand your position but for me the dancing mast woman is not about celebrating having your boobs cut off – it is about facing a horrific situation with a mindset of “I can do this and come out the other end”. It is a way of mentally psyching yourself up for the challenges that lie ahead. As you said, everyone does cancer differently and I totally support that. I think the problem is that people without cancer see that kind of stuff and see strength and a positive attitude without really understanding the hard road that inevitably follows. I also agree that women of all Stages need to be represented more at breast cancer events. Women with easily treatable early stage cancers are fortunate but leave the rest of us slash and burn women thinking – if you only knew…..

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    1. I re-read my last paragraphs and have edited it. I did not mean to imply the dancer was celebrating her removal. There was another person, a UK celebrity who threw a publicized “goodbye boobs” party a few weeks ago (the dancing woman was over a year ago). So no I do not think the dancer ever mentioned celebrating breast removal, in the TV interviews she did after her video went viral. If I recall correctly, she was trying to exhibit the mindset you mention here.
      My point IS that people see these things: the martial arts “fighting” cancer, the strength and courage stance and dance, and the party for body parts, all as “THE” only way to do cancer. To me, they are all really similar as they exhibit various characteristics of how society expects cancer patients to behave. And while it is fine for them, it does not work for me. I think there is more to the story and I am frustrated the messages never show anything different. As most of my posts are trying to communicate, I am frustrated by the single story of cancer that society pressures patients to follow. I am not doing cancer that way.
      Hope that makes sense. Thanks for commenting.

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  4. I am livid with this whole bloody topic! I am also weaning myself to a lower dose of anti-depressant and think that my comment might be too long and don’t want to monopolize your post. BUT, I will mention a few thoughts – 1) I had (might still have cancer – any cancer patient knows what I mean by this.)

    I <– bold, did not fight cancer! I LIVED through the steps taken by OTHERS to cut the cancer out of my body.

    The ONLY thing that can ever fight cancer is R-E-S-E-A-R-C-H!!! The f'**king pink parties, boob parties, dancing down the corridor to mastectomy and "positive attitude" videos do NOT fight cancer. My positive attitude did NOT rid my body of breast cancer.

    The truth is that cancer is a SCARY thing! Cancer is not to be celebrated, CURES are to be celebrated. I want a damn CURE. I want to know WHERE all the donated monies are going. SHOW me the path of donated dollars through offices to where the dollars end up – preferably at a bonafide, respected RESEARCH facility.

    I could go on but think I better stop. By the way, this is another great post Curmudgeon!!

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    1. As always I love your energy Swoosieque! I mean, how many times are we to be subjected to this without hearing any other point of view in the mainstream? My guess is we’ll never hear another side, except here, on our blogs. Sigh. Thanks as always!!

      Liked by 1 person

  5. I was drinking the Koolaid myself when I was diagnosed, so I totally relate. And I’m not exactly a brimming fount of positivity and pink ooze, so I doubt I’d gain any internet viral fame either if I found myself in a position of needing it. I do get where you’re coming from. I can only tell you to be who you are, and don’t repackage yourself to try to make you look more attractive to donors. Don’t sell yourself out. Trying to make oneself popular never really works out the way we hope, and in the end, we just feel more miserable for being a fake.

    I love you just the way you are, my friend. You are fighting cancer in the way that’s right for you. You don’t need to repackage yourself or reinvent yourself as long as you are happy with who you are.

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    1. Aww thanks and I love you too! Funny, before cancer, I was living a life in which, at least professionally, I was quite fake and indeed miserable. So THAT taught me a lesson, which I’ve applied to cancer and this blog (the opposite of the idea that cancer teaches one all these life lessons). Luckily, I am not at such a point to need funding for anything–fingers crossed for March scans.
      Hugs and stuff to you and Jen!!

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  6. I personally don’t like the kind of attention people/media give to cancer (the military terms, the sensual/pink ads, being called a “survivor” etc.), especially breast cancer because this is the most common type and so more organizations are inclined to invest more in “research.” (Perhaps the money isn’t going to the “right type of research” but that’s another argument.) I think women with most serious prognosis – stage 4 patients – are often excluded and this is the part that bothers me most. It’s sad for me to think that if I ever have to face stage 4, I will be excluded the same way. On the other hand, I believe each patient is entitled to handle their cancer the best way they can. I have more issues when the non-cancer people start to glorify survivors and make those less fortunate feel guilty about their situations. In general, we don’t have control over the outcome of our cancer. Some are lucky to go into remission and some aren’t. But we don’t really have control over that. BTW, I appreciate your honesty about delicate subjects.

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    1. Ugh, the way non-cancer people glorify patients–yes definitely an issue for me as well. Been thinking a lot lately about how people don’t really understand stage 4, the likelihood that recurrence will be metastatic, and so forth. That really hit home in the Becklund video that was all over social media in BC communities recently. This ignorance has been something I’m sure we’ve all encountered.
      Thanks, I my candor doesn’t offend, I try not to offend. I’m just interested in talking about things that need discussion.

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  7. I think your attitude is just great! Not all of us view breast cancer as one big pink slumber party filled with perky cheerleaders waving their pom poms around. You tell it like it is – honest, true, and from the heart. Should you ever need it, I will contribute to your go fund me campaign.

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