Seeing the success of Breast Cancer Awareness Month, so many other diseases are using the word “awareness” to bring attention to “their cause disease”. But the word is overused and has lost meaning. My knee-jerk, smart ass response these days is, ”I can’t get any more aware, thank you”. In articles and online discussions I often see the comment when the NFL is wearing pink, or when you can buy pink kitchen appliances, or when you see (name random thing) pink, we’ve reached our awareness saturation point (in terms of breast cancer). I’m inclined to agree, especially since when the comment comes from someone with whom agree on the point of being sick of all things pink.
But maybe this view is wrong. Awareness may be at saturation point in the target audience for breast cancer cause marketing, which is middle class white women with the money to spend on any product with a little pink slathered on is. Are poor and non-white women being reached? I know that special education and outreach programs exist to remedy this, but I cannot see results beneath all the pink (and white). Unless the target audience can see themselves getting cancer, they will never really be “aware”. Where is the pinkification of products preferred by African-American women, by Latina women, or affordable to the poor?
Which leads to another, larger point—I was “aware” of the pinkness and assorted hoopla each October prior to my own diagnoses, but as someone under 40, I didn’t really see myself as the target…I did not see myself getting cancer. I was aware I could get it, aware of my risk factors, etc. I’m sure some would point out to me that awareness led me to get a mammogram that caught my cancer and saved my life, except in my case, that is not true (see my about page).
So I’m aware, you’re aware, she’s aware, he’s aware. Big whoop. What is being done about it? I modestly propose a change of focus and title for all these disease campaigns. Cancer is too complex for a cure, I get it, I read The Emperor of All Maladies. How about something like stop X cancer from killing people? Or better yet, dare I ask…Prevent ALL Cancer?
The other day during my dog walking duties, a large black SUV pulled up next to me. I run into lots of people in each of the neighborhoods in which I house/pet sit, so I was not alarmed—it’s usually someone who knows the dog I’m walking. I was shocked to look up to see the husband of a former co-worker, neither of whom I’ve seen in over 6 years. He’d aged a little so it took me a second or two to recognize him. Yet, he recognized me from behind (and I was wearing bulky layers, long coat covering my ass, so get your mind outta the gutter), from down the street.
Since I lost my hair in chemo, and it continues to come back soooo sllooowwwly, I’ve felt incognito. (Actually, I’d like to be incognito, for a number of reasons, but that is another post.) I hated my short, super-curly (like Gene Wilder or Tom Hiddleston curly) hair so much that when people who had not seen me in a while (and did not know about my cancer) would mention my short hair, I was quick to say I’d had chemo…like OMG you don’t think I’d have this hairstyle on purpose do you?!!
But I realize that I’ve changed so much mentally that I’m kind of surprised when people I associated with years prior to diagnoses know me. I guess I look close enough to how I looked before that I am recognizable, but me, the real me, has changed, all because in split second in 2010 I moved from the land of the well to Cancer Land. Even though I currently have NED, I am still a resident. As long as I have to keep my various oncology doctors in the contact list in my phone, I feel like I am under their care (especially since I still see them twice a year—two times too much). I look forward to the day I can delete oncologists from my phone’s contact list.
Got a design sketch proposal from a tattoo artist to cover my lumpectomy scar. A little background: I never got a tattoo in my college years (the 90s, when ALL twenty-somethings got them to express…er, individuality); I had problems committing to a picture I’d want on my body for the rest of my life (oh fuck it, let’s be real, I have problems with commitment in general). But now, I have numerous little blue dot tattoos that mapped me for radiation, and I have a substantial amount of tissue taken from my left breast, no nipple, and a 4 inch horizontal scar that even reconstruction will not hide. So I decided no reconstruction—I do not want a permanently erect nipple, and I’d have to get the areola tattooed on anyway. So why not do something else? So I’m getting the Red Hot Chili Peppers band logo put on there (I’ve been a fan for over 20 years without faltering, incredibly, so I guess I can make this commitment) with the words “If you’re going through hell, keep going”. The quote may or may not be from Churchill. I’d prefer it to be definitely his, but, so what, it’s a good quote that accurately sums stuff up for me. It is so much better than my other choices, both by humorist Dave Barry: “Scientists now believe that the primary biological function of breasts is to make males stupid,” and my personal mantra: “What I look forward to is continued immaturity followed by death.”
So now, just gotta decide with the artist about the placement of the quote—around the logo, or through it? After 2 years of making health decisions that will affect my survivability and quality of life, I’m ok with this decision not having to be so momentous.
A little over two years ago, a few days before my 39th birthday, I was informed that I had breast cancer. My 50-year-old aunt had been diagnosed that summer, so when I had my annual gyno, I demanded my first mammogram, even though I was under the recommended age of 40. Got the mammo a week later, with nearly an immediate result: negative—the all clear. My relief was short lived. About 3 weeks later I noticed my nipple had turned in on itself (the tumor began directly under it, making it difficult to detect). So the mammo was that rare thing: a false negative. Ultimately, after many tests I learn this: Breast Cancer Stage 3, ER and PR negative, HER2 positive (an aggressive form of breast cancer but not as much as being negative in all 3), a very large tumor that had not yet metastasized, incredibly.
From October of 2010 to January 13, 2012, I spent most of my time in and out of medical facilities. Chemo first to shrink the tumor and make surgery less extensive, then surgery, then radiation, and I finished off with infusions of Herceptin (at $13,000+ per session) every 3 weeks until this past January. Oh and throw in quarterly echocardiograms, since Herceptin wants to wreck the heart. It sucked, but I did ok. No matter how nauseous I never barfed. Never needed blood transfusion for low blood count. My hair even started to come back when I was on the less toxic chemo, and the chemo obliterated the tumor—there was nothing discernible to remove in surgery, so they just took surrounding tissue and a few lymph nodes, and that was clear. I seem to do well with poison. Not sure what to do with that, but whatever.
So I reflect today on the suckage—and the good stuff, like my cancer buddies—of the past 2 years. And all cancer patients (or anyone facing mortality) are “obligated” to have “learned something” and share wisdom. I’m not really fond of that crap, but I will say this: I did learn to cut out anything in my life that made me miserable, and learned how easy it is to do that. I re-learned to demand what I want, to the point of being a malcontent (not too insufferable a malcontent I hope). I had lost my way in life before I got sick, but I am back on track…and now I “just gotta keep on livin’, man. L-I-V-I-N.” (Matthew McConaughey as Wooderson in Dazed and Confused)
An angry woman is…Unattractive? Empowered? Humorless? Got into a little back and forth last month commenting on an article. I agreed with said article that the “save the ta-tas” slogan can be offensive. Yes, the intent of the slogan is to remind women to get mammograms to detect breast cancer, but is it to save women’s lives or their breasts? To me, those 3 words are pretty clear which is to be saved—yes I know that people behind the slogan would say mammograms save lives, and that is their intent, blah blah blah…but that’s not what it says. I know some people don’t have a problem with it, but I wish the person who responded to my comment had not suggested I get counseling!
Why is it that if a woman (and anyone really) expresses anger or other negative emotions, (and is anger always negative—can it not be made positive?) therapy and/or drugs are automatically suggested? ALL feelings are valid, and I think my anger (which is quite common in cancer patients recently out of treatment), motivates me to action. How can the status quo be challenged unless we act, demand answers? And, yes, the status quo of how the fight against breast cancer certainly needs to be challenged.
So, what is wrong with this desire/motivation to act and challenge? I know from my conversations with other cancer patients (in my support group, see I AM doing therapy) that being angry or depressed or bitter or whatever is valid and ok. This societal pressure of “think positive” or quash the negative is so oppressive! Why are some people uncomfortable with anger? Why do they think people who experience anger cannot also experience happiness or humor, and need counseling? Do they suggest counseling to make the angry person feel better, or themselves? Probably the latter. I pity people who think life should be nothing but positive emotions. Didn’t someone once say if you aren’t angry, you aren’t paying attention?
When I get into “disagreements” with people who think it is ok to sexualize breast cancer PSAs, a recurring theme is “sex sells, beautiful breasts are a way to get attention and at least people then become aware. Don’t want to scare people with ugly cancer now do we?” or comments of that nature. I usually agree that one attracts more flies with honey than vinegar and that anything that gets a conversation started is good. For numerous reasons, I disagree that “anything to get the conversation started” in this particular case. And I found it difficult to argue that pretty attractive things best sell the message, anyone born in the age of television should know that!
I changed my mind after seeing a PSA urging the public to refrain from mobile phone use while driving. I saw it a few times before it sank in (thanks, remnants of chemo brain). In this PSA, 3 drivers are either texting or talking on their phones, and all have terrible crashes. There is no gore or pictures of gruesome crash results, but the spot is chilling nonetheless. Nothing attractive to see here!
So why do people I converse with still insist that showing attractive boobies is the best way to communicate the horrors of cancer? The mobile phone while driving demonstration was decidedly unattractive. In fact, I seem to remember in the not so distant past a rather hideous lung cancer PSA featuring people with holes in their throats, oxygen machines, etc. It was decidedly NOT pretty. Of course I do not see that PSA anymore—so I guess it was removed????
I’m not insisting that breast cancer PSAs show ugly surgery scars (I certainly do not wish mine posted all over the place), but I am asking that the “pretty boobies” ads be eliminated. If something beautiful must be shown so we don’t frighten women or young people (which is stupid, once you get cancer, being frightened is a natural state), show women STILL ALIVE. How about that marketing geniuses?