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?