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, or increased (some say stats are 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.

Symbols Are Not Solutions Rant 2

Preface: First Ribbon Problems

Rant 1: Make No Mistake About Where I Stand

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I’m In Love With That Song

“I’m in love with that song.” –from “Alex Chilton”, The Replacements, lyrics by Paul Westerberg

I have been feeling utterly defeated by all the Pink this October, despite my earlier claim to Take October Back.  But a very welcome distraction arrived for me last week in the form of the 16 nominees for induction into 2014’s Rock and Roll Hall of Fame.

I pause here to acknowledge the absolute lameness of a former punk-alterna-girl being so invested in the Rock and Roll Hall of Fame. Rock in general is about rebellion, and the Hall of Fame is an institution, the sort of which rock should rebel against. And even if rock became “respectable” somewhere along the way, then things like early and classic rock belong in there, but the punks that came along later to rebel against the established stuff, and then the post-punks after that, I mean, wouldn’t they rebel against that former rebellion-turned-new institution/establishment? See the Sex Pistols’ infamous rejection of their induction in 2006.  Even worse, I have to pause and acknowledge that in the past few years I’ve seen a few of the bands that provided the soundtrack of my teen years creep in, which just really means, I’m getting old.

Yeah, yeah, this is a cancer blog, and that will come into play much later in this post. This blog is an indulgence for me; my view on cancer, my personal experience with it, and how I (don’t) function in an American social culture that surrounds cancer, which I find mostly distasteful. So I’m indulgently rambling about music, because it was the one respite I had once I found myself a bit lost upon exiting the treatment treadmill (“you’re all better now, see you in 6 months!”, ha ha). Proof of my allegiance to my method of beating cancer blues is everywhere; in the post Punk Rock (Breast) Cancer, my tattoo (Red Hot Chili Peppers, Hall of Fame inductees in 2012), hell even my gravatar (The Ramones, Hall of Fame inductees in 2002).

I skip over the crap like “rap doesn’t belong” (yes it does, and I’d argue that until I’m blue in the face, and even if I lost the argument, I’d still argue it), “Yes/KISS should’ve been in there loooooong ago”, or “the world is doomed because more people like Nirvana than Link Wray”. Yada, yada, yada. I love watching the arguments unfold on various websites, and agree and disagree with so much of it. “We all come from the damn blues,” said Chuck D. (Public Enemy) in his acceptance speech last year. That should be made into a sign and posted above the door to the museum in Cleveland, or maybe noted in every article about this comparatively (to cancer, for me) silly topic, to remind everyone with an opinion how the whole mess called rock and roll got started.

My humble opinion is any person or band that is inducted, or heck even nominated, including the 16 this year, deserves to be there. I do have my favorites however, and this year I’m voting every day for Nirvana, The Replacements, N.W.A., LL Cool J, and the fifth option is a wild card for me every time. I could write forever extolling the qualities of my choices, but it is the first two I’ve listed that matter most to me now.

As a lonely punk-goth girl (weirdo) growing up in the 80s (remember in the 80s, there was no interwebs, so radio and magazines were the only exposure to music available) I hated what was on the radio; I lived in a rural area where there were no alternative stations—D.C.’s WHFS was an hour out of range. I loved the left of the dial stuff like The Cure (nominated once), The Pixies (never nominated, an outrage) and R.E.M. (inducted in 2007 and yeah, gonna be a snob and reveal I was fan well before they got played on regular radio, and got all famous). I used to stay up for those one or two hour programs of “college rock” on the radio or “120 Minutes” on MTV just so I could hear stuff to my liking. It was on one of these programs I first heard Nirvana’s  “Smells Like Teen Spirit”.

People always like to talk about where they were when they heard the bad news of some horrible event, and lots of cancer patients remember all too well, and have written about, where, how, and when they first heard of their diagnosis. My own memory of that, still so sharp, I’d like to erase. But I always want to remember the feelings and thoughts when I heard first heard “Smells Like Teen Spirit”. I was beginning my junior year of college, tired from working my ass off all summer to pay for the privilege of extended education, but still unsure about my future (well, that turned out unexpected, what with all the cancer). I heard that song and knew it would change everything.

Reams have been written about the influence of Nirvana in rock music. To me it was much simpler: the weirdos won. Finally, I could hear music I liked on the radio—which was great because my car’s tape player was forever breaking. With the nomination and almost assured induction of Nirvana, the weirdos win again. And I cannot let this year or this post pass without expressing shock and joy at the nomination of The Replacements. Of all the precursor bands to the so-called alternative music revolution that happened after Nirvana got famous, those bands that faded back into obscurity after it was so quickly over, I thought that only Sonic Youth would get any eventual recognition, and I still find their lack of nomination scandalous. So I view this nomination of The Replacements as nothing short of triumph, even though I am sure lots of people heard their name last week and said, “who the hell is that?”

But here is the funny thing. I know it matters a great deal to me, but not much to most people.  All summer, I’ve worn my Nirvana t-shirt with the smiley face logo (see banner) on the front and the less offensive claim on the back that the band is “flower sniffin’, kitty pettin’, baby kissin’, corporate rock whores” (the other version is worse, look it up).  People I interact with saw my t-shirt front and asked about Buddhism!  Here’s this band that is still a great favorite of mine, that had this tremendous influence on my young 20 year old self, and on the music industry, and no one seems to know who they are/were anymore. Because I immerse myself in entertainment media, I’ve been barraged with details of the 22nd anniversary of the release of their album “Nevermind”, the 20th anniversary re-release of “In Utero”. I get a skewed view of the world, I think they mattered greatly.  And yet, I constantly interact with people who do not even remember them.

It mirrors how I experience cancer at times. As a breast cancer patient with a tiny blog, who tends to seek out info that reaffirms a notion that Pink is WRONG, I sometimes get the sense that Pink, ribbons, and cancer are bigger issues than they are to most people. I have to remind myself that most people are not as tuned in to the issues, the lies of Pink and that is why they ignorantly continue to buy into it. I have to calm myself down—most people do not deal with breast cancer every day and do not know or understand that some breast cancer patients hate Pink. I wanna scream, “why don’t they get it, there are a million articles about how pinkwashing is damaging.” Well, because not many seek out that info.

Sure, lots of people are “touched” by cancer via friends and relatives, but it is only a small (hopefully growing) segment of breast cancer patients that have done the homework behind what is really happening behind the Pink-party-charity explosion. Just like most people are aware of a Rock and Roll Hall of Fame, but maybe, to paraphrase Nirvana’s “In Bloom”, likes the pretty songs, likes to sing along, but don’t know what it means.

To avoid being strangled by pink ribbons and all the surrounding bullshit, I’ve reveled in the news of the nominations. For the past several days I don’t think I’ve played a song on my phone that was not a Replacements song—yikes, better mix it up with songs by the other nominees! I’ll listen to “In Utero” for the millionth time, I’ll vote (maybe pointlessly) for my favorites on the Rock Hall website for the next several weeks; it is a great diversion. And when Nirvana’s living members accept their induction next April, I’ll try to remember that every once in a while, the outsider voice becomes the mainstream, and I’ll hope that the small segment pointing out all that is wrong with Pink can capture the attention of the world, without smashing any guitars.

“To truly love some silly piece of music, or some band, so much that it hurts” from  “Almost Famous”, film by Cameron Crowe, 2000