Turning My Stomach

I know what you’re thinking: you see a picture of Joan Lunden in a post and think this is another celeb-with-cancer bashing piece. Not exactly. I’m certainly no fan of Lunden or any of these celebs sharing their “inspirational stories”–and in my opinion Lunden IS one of the worst of them. But this picture is only partly her fault. Let me explain.

You see, this is an ad for People magazine. That issue of the magazine, that cover, is old. Yet the ad containing the cover picture, with the little items around the magazine cover, yeah, it’s new. I tore it out of my most recent issue of Entertainment Weekly. I’ve been seeing the ad in a few other magazines this weekend–I was, um, sifting through a huge backlog of magazines to clear some out. Yes, I still read actual magazines, sometimes for recipes (glossy, colorful pictures motivate me better). And man, I’ve been behind in reading-‘n’-recipe-reviewing, so this weekend was all about reducing my backlog!

OK defensive digression over.

Are these items holy relics or something?
Are these items holy relics or something?

So in short, I saw this ad a few times and as I reached the last magazine in my pile I yanked out this page and took a good long look at it. As I did so, I understood why it turned my stomach more than the usual celebs-with-cancer stuff I see. Have you seen this ad? Have you really looked at it, thought about it? (I kinda hope you have seen this ad, since I am no picture/computer wiz–and this scanned copy of the ad is not very clear and probably too small, but if you click it, it should get bigger.)

The ad, which IS for People, chose this older issue to tug at heartstrings, to sell magazines (yes everyone seems to use certain kinds of cancer patients to sell product). People magazine is touting their attention to the details as one reason they are so good at telling stories about people worth being in their magazine (that last part about worth is questionable, but I’m going with it for now). Continue reading “Turning My Stomach”

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Blinding Light

The lively conversations surrounding celebrities and their publicized breast cancer experiences have been fascinating—yes, I’m obviously talking about the Robach and Lunden double feature of recent months. I am working on a post about it, if I can get some time to finish, that will be amazing.

But one aspect that greatly disturbs me I have actually dealt with before. I keep reading comments praising the women, for “shining a light on breast cancer”, that “any” attention on breast cancer is good and needed.

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Yes, yes, I know I benefited from drugs that were probably only developed because of this attention.  I know I, and many women, have benefited (don’t think the men with breast cancer have gained much from all that Pink, but that is another story). But I think a backlash is coming. All the lights shining on breast cancer, from celebrities and corporations and everything, is starting to blind and irritate everyone else.

I think it is time to acknowledge that not only has Pink bullied every other cause, but that folks with other cancers are getting mighty tired of all the attention. I wrote this post last year, BEFORE that Pancreatic Cancer commercial in the UK put a spotlight on breast cancer in a different, quite unflattering way.

Yes, so many have benefited from Pink. At some point I suspect the winds will change, and we will ALL suffer from a backlash—those who embrace Pink and those who loathe it like your Cancer Curmudgeon. The kerfuffle around that pancreatic cancer PSA is probably just the beginning.

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

Posted on October 31, 2013 by Cancer Curmudgeon

Or: Shoving Pink Down Your Throat

Yes that title is sarcastic. Continue reading “Blinding Light”

A Cancer Free Mother’s Day

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.

 

Complicated Relationship with Hope

My relationship with the word—and the concept—hope is complicated, like a love/hate thing. For the longest time, during cancer treatment, I hated the word hope. There. I’ve said it.

The reason for the hate is pretty simple: for me, it got tied up with all that Pink and Cancer-is-Positive goo that dripped from the walls of the treatment center. While the small (small-town) infusion room served patients with all cancers, most of the patient artwork on the hallways leading back to the infusion room must’ve been done by breast cancer patients. The framed poetry and artwork had all the familiar Pink signifiers, and “hope” figured prominently. Framed poems with pink squiggles surrounding the words, pink abstract paintings (with detectable words like “hope”, “strength”, and “courage”, of course), pink, pink, PINK. So, like a science experiment in which a subject gets a painful shock each time she encounters something normally considered “good”, I began to react to the word as if experiencing a painful shock. The word to me meant those beatific smiles, bald heads, feather boas and pinked out clothes. And I just did not fit into that oversold image, and never will.

I used to gripe about the word during support group meetings. The passivity of the word, in its verb form, just made me nuts—it still does. I don’t want to sit around “hoping” for scientists to come up with better treatment and a cure for my cancer. I want to push, scream in their faces, demand it—for all the good that would do (none, duh). I don’t want to hope people “get” how the reality of cancer is so different from that smiling Pink image, I want to tell the truth up front—again, for all the good that will do. My militant anti-Pinkness was beginning to form back then, out of my pre-cancer mild annoyance with Pink hype and selling. While I could not grasp and articulate what pissed me off exactly, I just knew something was off. “Hoping” was just not active enough. And I already knew that doing what actions I could do, was supposed to do—the eat right/exercise/don’t drink bundle of individual cancer patient responsibilities so we can later be blamed—were no absolute guarantee against cancer’s threat to me—just a way to make odds slightly better.

Having the noun version of hope is a little trickier. Everyone needs it, should have it. This rant is in no way criticizing or belittling folks who have it. It’s just that my hope has always been tempered with reality and a desire to avoid the delusion I think is harmful in the Pinkification of the cancer story. But here I have to question myself. I went for a mammogram at age 38 because my 48 year old aunt had just been diagnosed. “She’s too young,” I thought then. When my nipple inverted a month later, I told myself that despite the fact that family history meant a higher likelihood of my own cancer, it seemed ridiculous that I would get cancer at the same time, and at my younger age. “What are the odds”, I thought. Or was I hoping? I still don’t know what the odds are in my scenario. Doesn’t matter anyway, because I did have cancer, right then and there, 5 days shy of turning 39 years young. Back then, I did not know my chances were 1 in 233, rather than the ballyhooed 1 in 8. Still, as much as that 1 in 8 is used in fear-mongering marketing tactics, I would think, well, I’ll be 1 of the other 7. Or did I hope it? Does everyone think/hope they’ll be one of the other 7 (or 233)? I’d guess yes. Fear can drive us to mammograms of questionable usefulness, but the whole time we figure we’ll be one of the others, not a “1”, at least, not just yet.

So my reality-laced hope, or hope-laced reality, comes with thinking about odds and likelihoods, and yet I still seem to draw the short straw. Against hope and odds, I was a “1”, not one of the other 232. This fact was and is an effective destroyer of hope for me. To be fair, it is not just in matters of cancer I’ve drawn short straws. There’ve been many times of getting that short straw in other areas of my life that have taught me to hope that things will go the way of the bigger odds—but look out for that unlikelihood off to the side. It can happen, it did happen too many times to me, and I learned that hope is not so useful to me. Preparing for the worst, bracing myself, serve me better. 

mybrand

But I sit here today, waiting to get an MRI that will tell me if my cancer has returned, or if I’ve got a new one. I am utterly helpless, powerless, to do anything about it. The only activity I can engage in is to hope that I’m not joining the smaller number again, in this case the 30% of mets patients. Granted, my brand of hope is not the smiling Pink kind. My brand has a black rock group t-shirt, tattered jeans, black nail polish, greying hair, and a snarl. Because that is who I am—not an effen feather boa in sight.

What else can I do.

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.

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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.