What Is The Real Battle Here?

For all the battle language that I still loathe in cancer, I can’t help but employ it when it comes to this. How can we “fight” the presentation of breast cancer as sexy fun times (the latest being the Komen dogs, but I mean the Coppafeel crap and the ill-advised Young Survivor bracelet thing too)? Is it worth a “war”? I used to think it was worth starting up a “battle”; I’m a bit less sure these days. But here is a post, or a suggestion (?) I had two years ago. Mostly, it is me trying to explain why sexualized cancer hurts. But these days I despair of making anyone understand. But for what it is worth–another re-run:

How About a “What Cancer Really Does to Breasts Day”?

I wasn’t going to write about No Bra Day, because 1) so many other blogs I read have said most of what needs to be said, 2) why should I give it more exposure and attention, and 3) I wrote an overly long, overly wordy piece this summer already, back when there was this other No Bra Day (how many are there?!). The earlier piece, I Don’t Want to See It, is mostly crap I wish I had not written, only the final 5 or so paragraphs are worth reading, and some of the sentiment of those will be repeated here.

I changed my mind because as I started mentally ranting I realized that ignoring it won’t make it go away any more than giving it more attention will (more on this theory, keep reading). It deserves all the outrage that can be had.

Who the hell organizes these No Bra Days? There is no organizational name on that graphic (everyone has seen it I’m sure), so I guess it is just some idea someone passed around on Facebook (sorry, I still cannot have a FB page for personal, non-cancer related reasons, so I’m dim on Facebook things). How the hell does it benefit anyone? Don’t bullshit me and say it raises awareness, especially when the top line of the graphic reads “support breast cancer”. Sounds like the purpose of the day is to increase the incidence of breast cancer—the graphic doesn’t even bother to discuss support for patients in any way.  It’s just another excuse to sexualize a disease, and to be childish and talk about boobies. Again.

What I am saying is divisive and angry; I know and do not care. I am so fond of the quote “just because you’re offended, doesn’t mean you’re right,” (Ricky Gervais) and I know that just because this event and the participants offend me, I’m not right. Lots of folks, including breast cancer patients, think all this is just fine, so it is doubtful that this event will cease to exist. But I AM offended and right or wrong, I’m going to gripe about it.

Setting healthy ta-tas “free” doesn’t support this breast cancer patient, again, not that this event even bothers to pretend to support any patients, it is supporting breast cancer, remember? It just reminds me of what cancer did to my breasts, and to other breasts. The scars, the ugliness, the pain and surgery. Need I go on? While I can begrudgingly accept that people who donate or participate in Pink have good hearts even if I hate Pink, I have NO appreciation for anyone involved in No Bra Day. Do NOT expect any gratitude or applause for the participation from me. I’m glad that these women are still healthy, still have breasts unmarred by cancer, but I really do not want to be reminded of what I lost. To those who organized this No Bra Day, I consider you insensitive, thoughtless jerks.

I know this day, the participants, and whoever organized it will get praise from many corners—but a quick scan on Google and other blogs gives evidence of some criticism about this event. I wish there more outrage about it. While I have no hope these days of the Pink machine slowing down, I yearn for more concrete ways to express my extreme dissatisfaction. This No Bra Day is one of the most egregious examples of how a disease has become the plaything of an adolescent, boobies obsessed culture.  If I were rich, I’d buy a million very covering and very supportive bras and throw them—well, somewhere, since there is no physical headquarters for this idiotic nonsense. Maybe I’d just scatter them about a big city street, to stop traffic and get everyone to see how at least this one breast cancer patient really feels. Sure, that would just be me throwing a childish tantrum—but the organizers have proven that they are not emotionally or intellectually adult enough to understand the lengthy, smart essays criticizing the event.

Source: etsy

Why doesn’t someone come up with a “What Cancer Really Does to Breasts Day”, gathering and presenting all the pictures of so many bloggers (myself included, I would do this) in various stages of lumpectomy/mastectomy, reconstruction or no reconstruction? There are certainly plenty of said pictures on the internet. I get why established groups or projects cannot do this—with establishment comes the need to “play nice”.  Being a socially awkward, complaining Curmudgeon—in real life and in the blogosphere—means I seem unable to play nice.

I’m sure many would find a “What Cancer Really Does to Breasts Day” objectionable and offensive (see this is where I can use the Gervais quote to my advantage). But here’s the thing: not wearing bras, or even those “tasteful” Pink ads featuring topless, strategically covered, healthy-breasted models for that matter, do nothing to make anyone understand the reality of breast cancer—other than show off what to those who objectify boobies will be “missing” should cancer afflict any of these women. The current socially acceptable image of breast cancer is the bald-headed woman in a pink t-shirt at a run or walk, smiling and being strong. To me it’s like a sick before and after scenario: women before cancer can be sexy and flaunt naked breasts for cancer awareness, women after breast cancer surgery need to keep covered, need to become unsexy soldiers to admire for bravery, but not to be desired.

Seeing what breast cancer is capable of, and what women who’ve had scarring surgery are capable of, seems more logical and helpful to me. On a personal level, it certainly would’ve helped me when I was recovering from surgery and follow-up radiation, wondering what to do. Instead I saw bikini clad women in ta-ta breast cancer ads, and felt horrible, my emotional wound constantly re-opened.

I loathe the battle language in cancer, as I’ve mentioned often enough throughout my posts. What I hate most is that it is used mainly to blame “soldiers” who’ve “lost their battle with cancer” because they “didn’t fight hard enough.” I rarely see war talk applied in terms of a grand battle plan. Why isn’t it applied here? A good general goes into battle prepared, knowing as much about the enemy as possible—their weapons, strategies, the size and the location of the enemy, and what the enemy does to prisoners. Would it not make sense to show what the “enemy”, breast cancer, does to these “soldier” women? How can this proverbial “battle” be fought if everyone is refusing to acknowledge the “battle scars”? Oh right, we’re not supposed to be victims or prisoners, cancer happens to us, but there should be no lasting mental effects, and no one wants to see the scars (as the summertime fracas with Facebook and the surrounding conversations proved)—we either win or lose, and it’s all on us, even if the weapons (medicine) fail the soldiers, no matter how hard we fight. Yes I’m being sarcastic.

This mass delusion of only showing healthy breasts in regards to breast cancer has got to stop. Yes, it is good to think positive, to dream, and to champion the bright side of life—even if a Cancer Curmudgeon just won’t do that. But to completely ignore the reality, to not face the ugliness or pain cancer brings, I assure everyone, it doesn’t make the ugliness or pain cease to exist. Furthermore, wouldn’t seeing pictures of women ALIVE after scarring surgery be, I don’t know, positive? I remember being told on HuffPo this summer that these scars should not be shown. Hope she never has to go through it, hope she never has to see that ugliness in the mirror, hope she never needs to see my example of one who turned an ugly scar into a triumph.

I prefer to know what I’m up against and I’m tired of a socially acceptable conversation about cancer in which everyone covers their eyes and ears, singing “la la la”, like nothing bad ever happens.  Sometimes, ignoring the bad stuff only results in a sucker punch later.

Only three types of people tell the truth: kids, drunk people, and anyone who is pissed the fuck off.” –Richard Pryor

Sometimes people don’t want to hear the truth because they don’t want their illusions destroyed. –Nietzsche

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Heartstrings

My cancer “story” is not cute, nor triumphant (arguably, I mean, I AM alive still), and it does not tug any heartstrings. I put story in scare quotes because lately I’ve been so very tired of every single cliché in cancer—even clichés I use, like “tell your story”. I don’t really object to the phrase, I just hear it too much. Anyway, enough of that ramble.

I’m responding to the Dog Day picture posted by Komen, of dogs wearing bras with balloons in them—you know, for “the cause”, for “awareness”. I and so many cancer bloggers I read objected vehemently to the photo. How can those of us objecting to the sexualization of breast cancer combat this?

Well, for years bloggers have been combating this by writing about the other side—the one that includes pictures of ugly scars, stories of failed treatment/surgery, stories of recurrence or metastasis, stories of the lovely side effects of treatment (hemorrhoids + diarrhea, anyone? no? just me?). But the mainstream media (I swear, I’m not Sarah Palin the way I go on about the mainstream media, there is just no other way to phrase it) prefers the pretty boas on women who kicked cancer’s ass. That does not represent me.

But neither do some of the stories that tell the other side.

I “only” had a lumpectomy, luckily because my 5×6 cm tumor was shrunk by chemo (I’ve had an ugly post about breast cancer competition stories in the works for ages, and one day I’ll calm down enough to finish and post). So I have no traumatic surgery photos to post. In fact, the photos on this blog show a masterfully completed surgery with a neat and tidy scar, covered with a tattoo I got in “triumph”. I have no photos of my hairless self, pics of me in chemo. I didn’t want to document or remember any of that. I was photographed when my hair first started coming back for a work event; I felt I could not object to the photo being taken since it was publicity for the event. These days I wish I’d refused, that the photo did not exist.

I mean, I do have my original images of my first mammogram, that show a big white blob in the left breast, with no matching white blob in the right. It could be a cautionary image-story of how a tumor fools a radiologist into believing a woman just has dense breasts. But it isn’t impressive, eye-catching stuff.

I did not have as hard a time with side effects as other patients I’ve met in real life and online. I won’t say I “breezed through” treatment. Indeed, the fight with the nurse practitioner over whether I had shingles or Staph was a pain in the ass. Especially being put on meds I did not need and did not solve the problem, and the tenacity I had to use after chemo and surgery to get a correct diagnosis. But that is a minor speed bump compared to horrible stories I read.

Lots of metastatic stories I read bring up the fear of dying before seeing children grow up, go to college, get married, have grandchildren. I don’t have kids and never wanted them. So my story is not poignant, would not work in one of those ads designed to make people reach for tissues and credit cards. My story has no such tragic element.

Furthermore, I’ve made no grand contribution to society. Other than my parents and a few random relatives and friends, I’ve made no mark on the world. I’m just a smartass more interested in pets than people. My personality and my story will not send the masses to wipe tears and open checkbooks. My story and (lack of) pictures cannot combat and get attention for breast cancer awareness the way images of women doffing bras for the cause, funny dogs in bras, women pulling a warrior pose, and mothers afraid of not seeing their children grow up, can to get the public eye.

Of course, I am doing the thing I hate most: comparing cancers, getting into the cancer Olympics, who has it worse bullshit. I don’t have it bad—I participate in discounting, I “only” had stage 3, I “just” had a few side effects. Again, that comparison, who-has-it-worse, crap is a story for not just one, but two, future painful posts.

So why participate in all the “tell your cancer story” activity? I’ve admitted a few times here on this blog and other social media that at this point, this blog is mostly for self-therapy. And to lend a digital hand to others who have had or currently have cancer, who have similar crotchety views like mine—to let them know they are not alone—the way I felt in that post-treatment depression period. I’ve given up trying to convince those without cancer and those that embrace Pink-rah-rah-fight-like-a-girl stuff around to my way of thinking.

But then I think, perhaps the blandness, the ordinary-ness, of my story is in fact what is so horrific about it. Sure I had some family history—certainly not as much history as others I know of. I was just going along in my life, figuring cancer was a likely eventuality for me, although I expected blood pressure/cholesterol/heart disease issues first—that was the more common family history. Cancer would be my post-retirement issue.

I wonder what the non-cancer general public thinks when they see the trying-to-make-you-cry cancer ads. Do they hug their children, pause in momentary gratitude, and then move on, figuring “it won’t happen to me“? I mean, I sure thought that way. Even now, 5 years later, I’m still vaguely surprised I had cancer—that it happened to me. Shocking getting-cancer-young stories always happened to somebody else.

If I knew of a way to post a picture or to distill my cancer experience into a pithy quip or soundbite that would gather attention, that would combat the clichéd ads and pictures already creeping in before October, I would do it. But, I don’t believe in creating some pink boxing glove inspirational image, I have no tragic pictures or stories. All I have is an ordinary tale: I got cancer when I did not expect it; I elected to get treated; and now, so far so good. No heartstrings can be tugged—and I’m not the type that likes that kind of thing anyway.

Of course, it isn’t really that simple.

Cancer continues to have a profound impact on my life. Some of it is still physical; the tiredness unnatural for one in her 40s, the remnants of brain fog, the pain and tenderness to the point of abhorring touch on the breast that had cancer—and of course that dip where the nipple used to be. Much of the remaining impact is mental and emotional, and altered views—I won’t say cancer lessons. They are lessons, just not socially acceptable lessons—again, blog posts for future days.

I’m just so tired of cancer culture, especially breast cancer culture. And I’ve only loathed it for 5 years; I know there are other bloggers out there who’ve been criticizing this mess far longer—and so much of the culture remains unchanged.

At this point, my cancer experience is not one of inspiration, not one to tug any heartstrings—it just a story of weariness. It is not good copy for ads that get attention and money.

My Different Cure Campaign This October

(This post is a bit of a goof, more about music than cancer. Don’t take me too seriously.)

A few days ago I ran across a cartoon on Facebook—which I immediately shared on my Curmudgeon page—featuring several wild-haired characters stretching under a banner that said “Race for The Cure”. The one “normal” looking person says something like, “so this race isn’t to fight cancer?” The joke of the cartoon refers to the doom and gloom, post-punk, goth band The Cure, whose lead vocalist, Robert Smith, had the recognizable wild hair imitated in the cartoon. I found the cartoon hilarious because when I first got cancer and phrases about racing, biking, whatnot for “the cure” infiltrated my life, I had to actively remind myself “the cure” was about cancer, not The Cure—the band I sooooo loved in my goth-teen phase. (And yes, I still listen to those great albums.)

robertthen1

As litigious as Komen has proven itself, I’m a little amazed they have not gone after a band calling itself The Cure. Never mind the fact The Cure put out their first record in the late 70s, well before Komen existed, would that matter? Komen seems to think they own the words, and indeed have trademarked the phrase. Ugh, I hope I’m not giving them any ideas. Let this be a warning Komen, if you ever go after The Cure I will not rest until I see your utter annihilation. Yes, I love that old band that much.

My biggest form of therapy in this post-treatment life has been music, as I’ve mentioned in several posts. I’m lucky that deep in the heart of Pinktober, The Rock And Roll Hall of Fame announces their nominees for the following year’s induction ceremony. It gives me a much needed distraction when even my beloved Halloween pumpkins have been painted dreadful pink (see this old post). Yes, it’s silly an old alterna-girl should care if a band that was not “popular” back in the day should get into an institution; I mean punk/indie music was about rebelling against institutionalized rock. I wrote about this a couple of years ago in the post I’m In Love With That Song.

So this is my plea to those who vote or have a hand in the nominees  for The Rock and Roll Hall of Fame for this October. (Questlove? Maybe you can do this for me?) Please nominate The Cure again. As a breast Cancer Curmudgeon, I am so sick of the rah-rah, the pink madness of the month and everything associated with Komen’s greedy possession of the phrase The Cure. That is not to say I don’t want a cure for cancer—don’t be absurd, of course I do. I’m just still stuck in this place I’ve been all summer where practically ANY word or phrase in the world of cancer drives me nuts (empowered, powerful, journey, fight, battle, just…ALL OF IT). Please let me have The Cure, the band, back. I want to talk about The Cure again and mean music, not overused phrases.

Robert Smith and the gang may not be the cure I need if I get a recurrence, but they are a Cure for the nonsense I can barely tolerate in CancerLand these days.

My t-shirt from when I saw The Cure in concert in 1996
My t-shirt from when I saw The Cure in concert in 1996

Take It Easy, Man

This post is in praise of the nameless cancer patients who don’t have the energy to do much of anything during or even after treatment.

Feel-good stories run rampant on the internet, local news, and fake news shows like those idiot magazine and morning shows. A special subdivision of feel-good stories are the stereotypical cancer stories. You know the type: the cancer patient finishing school, running a race, or doing some event or another, all while juggling treatment and the rest of life. Sometimes these exceptional cancer achievers are featured in ads for various cancer non-profit organizations, and I’m again reminded of the saying I encountered when I first moved to CancerLand: “only the positive stories make it to the podium”. Lots of folks like to post these stories, calling them powerful or inspiring.

Looking back on my days of treatment, I am glad I was not very connected with social media. I was lucky to be surrounded by people who encouraged me to listen to my body; if I was tired, take a rest, don’t push myself. I look at all these stories of someone putting off chemo to run a marathon and think, “I could never do that”. Or I see the governor of my home state posing with his bald head on the steps of some government building proclaiming how great he feels and I think, “well, it has just begun for him, the fatigue and other side effects are cumulative, ask him again in a few months”. Then I feel guilty for being so self-absorbed, for being tired, for comparing myself to others. Even now, nearly 5 years out from diagnosis, when I am done with my work day, I sit down and almost immediately nod off. (This is why I get so behind in reading and writing.)

It is natural to compare ourselves to figures we see in the media. Reams have been written about this topic, how young girls and women see images, cartoons or real starlets, and are set up trying to reach an unachievable standard. I enjoy seeing the attempts to counter the impact on the internet, campaigns about self-acceptance. Too bad that was not around when I was young. These images still impact me as I’ve aged; I mean I know that beauty product being shilled by the actress decades older than I—yet her face has less lines than mine—won’t really help me, but I consider buying it anyway. My point is, any media-anointed she-ro, whether a cancer patient or otherwise, is meant to inspire others to be more like the she-ro, and if that is unachievable, well, I don’t know about other folks, but sometimes I just wind up feeling like crap.

I’m a big fan of the Coen brothers’ “The Big Lebowski”, and The Dude. While I’ve never decided to follow Dudeism (the sort of philosophy posing as a religion, or vice versa, based on the character), I cannot help but think some of its ideals should be embraced by cancer patients. Dudeists are trying to reach their version of Nirvana, which is just taking it easy, man. Take a nap! Abide!

No this isn’t some Dudeism recruitment post—as I said I don’t really embrace it all myself. But I do think there is some wisdom in taking it easy. This is in no way meant to knock those cancer patients who push themselves, run races, execute events, and all that. All I want to do is say hey, if you are tired and need a nap, for goodness’ sake, take it!

Media appointed cancer s/heroes create a standard or ideal that it is not necessary to reach, no matter how many times those less-than-supportive types around us might think. While, again, I was lucky to be surrounded mostly by folks who told me to rest when tired, I did encounter many folks (and still do) who see the image of the smiling, kick-ass woman (an image I have long fought, see Take the Mythical Image of the Strong Warrior Breast Cancer Survivor and Bury Her Once & For All) so omnipresent in breast cancer culture, and wonder why I’m not wearing a feather boa and marching. No thanks, I will put on my bathrobe, pour myself a beverage, and have a seat while pondering if the rug really ties a room together.

And I raise that beverage in honor of all the other cancer patients who also decide to take it easy, man. We may not get on TV, won’t get any media praise, but we are doing cancer right for ourselves.

The Dude