Oh, And Another Thing: Stop Using Fear of Breast Cancer to Further Your Agenda

This is what I get for posting pre-coffee. I got up, walked dogs and wrote a post in my head while doing that, typed and posted, THEN wandered over to the coffee maker, having forgotten to include a big point in that previous post.

The worst thing about the “Time” magazine post had to be the damn title: “More Breast-Feeding Could Save Billions and Prevent Thousands of Breast Cancer Cases”. Those last 6 words. I mentioned in the first of this unintentionally ongoing series of posts that I follow news and blogs to keep up with health and breast cancer issues. Putting words like “prevent” and “breast cancer” in a title will guarantee not only I, but many women will read an article. And the article is not even about breast cancer, really. The whole point is to get folks to see the importance of breast feeding. I mean, I could care less about breast feeding issues since I never wanted kids, and for years even I’ve received the message loud and clear: breast feeding is the best thing to do in the whole world. Think pink ribbon awareness is achieved, maybe even over saturated? So is this issue. When a childless curmudgeon such as myself gets it, much like the NFL draped in pink, it is a signal the target market has “got it”. My guess is that since the breast feeding community still puts the message out there so much is that certain demographics are not being reached. Just like with pink ribbon marketing—the white woman of a certain income level (former income level in my case) has the message, and repeating it over and over to that group does not translate into getting the message to the other demographics—so change the tactics, OK? No I don’t know how to do that, if I did, I’d be doing it.

Now, don’t comment to me about breast feeding and getting the message to whatever group is not yet doing it. That ain’t my ax to grind today, or any day, so telling me problems with breast feeding awareness will fall on deaf ears.

What is pissing me off is that once again, the media AND advocates for one issue are taking breast cancer fear and using it to further their own agenda. Want attention for your cause? Figure out a way to drag breast cancer in your sound bite. The words will get in the headline or title of the article, and certainly in the tags, and presto! Instant readership. And hell, you’ll even get someone like me, who does not give a damn about your issue, to write not one, not two, but three posts about your issue—yes I realize all my ranting is just feeding the mess. I’ve talked about this before in Does Breast Cancer Owe It to Other Cancers?, advocates for other health issues cleverly realize that Breast Cancer Pink is the Big Deal. Want attention? Just say any magic words that include “breast cancer”. “Heart disease kills more women than breast cancer.” “Breast feeding prevents breast cancer.” The result is immediate attention for your personal cause.

Those of us who criticize Komen and Big Pink for breast cancer fear mongering to sell unnecessary procedures and extra mammograms (hmph, mammograms, snort of derision), just look what Komen and Pink have launched. Now everyone is doing the fear mongering dance. Everyone screams “breast cancer” to get attention even when what they have to say has little to do with breast cancer, and the public will continue to tire of hearing about breast cancer. And the problems of breast cancer will continue to go overexposed and unsolved.

In the previous post I called upon those doctors, Dr. Kathleen Marinelli, MD and Dr. Melissa C. Bartick, quoted in the piece to come up with a way to expand this “prevention method” for women who do not want children. Perhaps that is unfair for me to ask that, since their fields of expertise are Perinatal Medicine & Neonatal Medicine and Research, respectively, and I see no mention of Oncology in relation to their names according to good ol’ Google. I lay the blame not only at the feet of “Time” magazine and all media, but also at the feet of health professionals who sensationalize their health issue by using breast cancer fear as a selling tool. Don’t talk about breast cancer unless you’re giving me something I, Jane Q. Breast Cancer Patient, can use. And no, breast feeding to prevent breast cancer is not useful.

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Part 2—In Which I Do Not Cool Down Later

I suppose normal people get mad about something, and then cool down about an issue as more time passes. Not so for the curmudgeon. I wrote the previous post in a fit of white hot anger. I went off. I blew a gasket. And a million other clichés anyone can think of. One would think that after 12 hours have passed, my hot head would’ve cooled down. Nope. If anything, my head is hotter.

I wrote from my narrow minded own point of view. That “Time” post contained some—for lack of a better word, triggers—for me. I get so tired every Mother’s Day, the women who’ve chosen to not have children write blog posts or news articles defending their decision. Well, I like reading these pieces, it makes me feel like less of a freak for my own stance. I just hate the way these things pop up every May in an almost defensive “I chose not to have children and that’s ok, I’m not just some sad, unfulfilled woman crying this whole day” way that irks me. I used to think not having kids was a normal, logical choice for myself. With each passing year, I feel more and more as if I’m viewed as some kind of radical, sticking my middle finger up at society by not procreating. Well, yeah, I often am sticking up my middle finger, but in lots of ways for lots of reasons, not child related!

The other trigger is the focus on estrogen positive cancers, ignoring HER2 positives. I actually understand that a bit; only 20% are HER2 positive, so naturally most conversations or information about breast cancer will be about the majority, as maybe it should be. Come to think of it, I marvel at the invention of Herceptin. I cannot believe Big Pharma went out to make a drug for such a small part of a lucrative market (gonna have to read up on the history of that drug). But hey, that drug is the third top seller of all cancer drugs (see here), so I guess I shouldn’t feel bad for the poor ol’ drug companies (YES, being VERY sarcastic). I imagine the sophisticated marketing plan discussion for the drug boiled down to “hey we are only going to be able to get a portion of these desperate women (read breast cancer patients), I know, let’s charge the shit out the women who want this drug!”

But this morning I put myself in the shoes of women who had kids and got hit by cancer…especially estrogen positive cancer. Or wanted kids, and have been denied the chance to have them because of cancer. Or are indeed estrogen positive and chose not to have kids. How do these women feel? If any of these women interpreted the “Time” post the way I did, (that having a baby and breastfeeding it for a year is a way to prevent breast cancer, and if you got breast cancer because you didn’t do this you deserve it, and you’ve put a burden on public health), what must these women feel? If you are such a woman, reading this, I welcome comments (to me, to others, have a conversation here if you want, let loose, I LOVE that). I hesitate to speak for any such woman. I’ve done so before (here), in putting myself in the shoes of those who get so-called unnecessary mastectomies, because I can understand it, although I got the “approved” lumpectomy instead. (Still cannot believe I did that, I fall into so many small percentages regarding cancer, I don’t think the “low probability of breast cancer returning in same or other breast” as doctors like to yammer on about can actually apply to me. I had less than half a percent of a chance of getting cancer before 40 and I did, so you over there with your low stats bullshit, bite me.)

So thoughts on this topic—let ‘em rip, because I want to know. And thanks Cancer In My Thirties, for making me view it another way!

In the meantime, my challenge to the two doctors (Dr. Kathleen Marinelli, MD and Dr. Melissa C. Bartick, MD) quoted in the “Time” post regarding how breast cancer can be prevented by breast feeding: Good job on finding a prevention that many of us are so desperate for. Now, figure out a way to take that knowledge and turn it into another preventative method. Not every woman is cut out to be a mother, and they should not feel like not fulfilling their biological imperative will kill them.