A Cautionary Awareness Tale

On October 31, as I distracted myself with Halloween’s glory, I asked myself: “what do we become aware of this month?” Lots of Facebook posts ask that question, I asked it on Twitter I think. So much sound and fury in October, but does anyone learn anything? I think not.

I forced myself to remember the days before diagnosis. I know I never thought all the pink rah rah crap was great–that’s just a core trait of my personality. But what did I know about breast cancer, and the awareness push, before diagnoses?

This is a tough question to answer. I’m not sure I fully know the answer. I know I absorbed the “early diagnosis/screening” messages. I knew enough to ask for a mammogram earlier that the suggested age (40 at that time), but I still regarded breast cancer, any cancer, as an older person’s disease despite knowing actual patients my age. I asked for a mammogram because I knew I had a higher risk with family history-my aunt had just been diagnosed for heaven’s sake. I knew about ribbons, especially red ribbons (AIDS) and pink ribbons. Did I know October was “awareness” month? Maybe–but it did not “click” with me until the late 00’s.

The incident that made it click with me–well, I’d buried it. I was working in for a non-profit arts organization. Doing film exhibition with local community organizations. In the summer of 2008 or 2009 I began working with a women’s business group. My point collaboration person was suggesting topics for me to find films for our October event. I remember her telling me October was Breast Cancer Awareness Month.

I remember being surprised by that–what a dumb month for such a thing! Let me explain. As a lifelong resident of a beach town/resort area, with my first post-college job being in retail, I had a list of hard and fast rules and truths. Painting October Pink was stupid in my mind. Lots of local “runs” took place in April/May/June anyway–wasn’t spring better for Pink? I’ve lived my life by the ebb and flow of tourist traffic. Panel season, or off-season, events were in a strict path. There was the Greyhound rescue dog weekend, Jazzfest weekend, Seawitch, etc. in October. Where I worked, the annual film festival was the second weekend of November. I had no time for anything else–October was full of deadlines in preparation for this main event–a time of no sleep, no fun, no nothing. I measured these things in amounts of car traffic (for my work travel) and the likelihood of whether I could schedule an event and get any butts in seats during those event weekends (likely not). BCAM had maybe a marathon in one beach town–but there was always a marathon each weekend (bikes the worst, as they interrupted traffic the most, adding to my work travel time). I had no time for breast cancer, awareness, or a month of it . But sure, if I could find cheap film to exhibit about it, I’d see what I could do (this was before the release of Pink Ribbons, Inc.).

I don’t remember what films I exhibited–none about cancer I’m relatively certain. I moved on, forgot about this, got cancer, and now I remember it.

But here is the other thing I’d submerged, and am just now dredging up–a sort of painful memory.

I skipped the main event in 2010, having just been diagnosed, and preparing for the Red Devil. In 2011, I returned, managing over 1,000 volunteers for the annual festival, among other things. I had completed chemo in January of that year, radiation in the summer. I was still doing Herceptin every 3 weeks and my hair was curly and short–just returning. I was exhausted and felt horrible. I ran into the women I’d coordinated with for that event of a few years prior. She laughed and asked why I’d cut my hair so short (I’ve always worn it long). “I had cancer,” I replied curtly. She laughed for half a second then sobered up when she saw I was NOT laughing. “Breast cancer?” she asked. “Yeah,” I grunted.

So here was this person, so into “The Cause” but what did she really know about breast cancer? Breast cancer was a thing to worry about–but a thing that happened to other people–not ones we knew, not ourselves. Breast cancer was a thing to promote because an audience “cared” about it. But not “real”.

I realize now how much this informed my view of BCAM–this ignorance. It’s something to care about, to SHOW care about, but it always happens to someone else.


This is likely part of my disconnect with such hollow shows of “solidarity” of “Support”. Those things are meaningless to me.  The Pink events–they have little to do with What Really Happens.

I hold no ill will toward this woman–how could I? I was just as ignorant, just as “that won’t happen to me.” I don’t even remember her name, or the organization, and don’t feel motivated to research it. It doesn’t matter. It was just a memory that popped up Monday, unwanted, as I tried to get ready for tricks or treats.

My point is: October and BCAM, those are just “things to do”, the way we do other “holiday” things: buy candy for trick or treaters, buy a turkey and fret about ignorant relatives, succumb to shopping holiday madness, and make the obligatory weight loss New Year’s resolution.

And that is what I hate about October as Breast Cancer Awareness Month: it has become a rote obligatory motion we go through–not real.  Except to those of us who had the dumb fortune to get breast cancer.

And this is what needs to change.


Two Tweets Tie Today!

That’s right! We have a tie for our tweet that best captures the spirit of our October 1st #BreastCancerRealityCheck event! Twitter users @cattyfizzle  and @uneasykt wrote the winning tweets. Their winning tweets are:

A donation of  £113 GBP (or $146 USD at current exchange rate) will be made to METAvivor in @uneasykt’s name, and another donation of £113 GBP (or $146 USD at current exchange rate) will be made to Second Hope in @cattyfizzle’s name.

Needless to say, this was an extremely tough decision. @barbieslosingit and myself sifted through the nearly 1,000 tweets that went out last Saturday and whittled them down to a list of 12 for the 5 judges to vote upon. Took us a week, yes, but we did it! Kudos to our esteemed panel of judges: @Stickit2Stage4 @bccww@itsthebunk@abcdiagnosis, and @deedeesmiles4u.

The winning tweets felt most impactful, and we feel will likely resonate with most breast cancer patients. @uneasykt’s point about not knowing we are “cured” until we die of something else applies to all breast cancer patients whether we were diagnosed anywhere from Stage 0 to 4, regardless of recurrence status. And how many of us relate to @cattyfizzle’s graphic—I know I’ve personally elected to try falling asleep rather than falling apart!

Again, we thank everyone for tweeting last Saturday. We have been heard! That would NOT have happened without everyone’s wonderful participation. I could post an entry a day here on this blog and never adequately express enough gratitude.

Of course, since last Saturday, #BreastCancerRealityCheck has taken on a life of its own, and countless others have created even more tweets eloquently summing up our realities. We had no idea, back when this was a glimmer of an idea in those last sunny days of summer, that this idea would hit such a nerve (though now that I think about it, not sure why we didn’t suspect it—ha ha!). We must keep it up. The movements–#BreastCancerRealityCheck along with The Underbelly’s #WhyIsThisPink campaign, and others—are taking off and starting a conversation. Let us now attempt to keep it going, and to maybe get through to a few people whose minds are open.

Assumptions About Gratitude

I can tell given recent events I will revisit the thoughts in this post, but I am RE-blogging it until I have time to write a new post. For now, this is a big fat message to people who bitch about all these ungrateful breast cancer patients. I’d bet–and I am so NOT a gambling type–that I give the topic of gratitude a shit ton more thought than most.

Burden of Gratitude

Long before I got cancer, I worked with a woman really into positive energy, healthy eating, and so on. She and I, along with other co-workers, started reading “Simple Abundance”. One daily task suggested by the book was to make a list of 5 or10 things one is grateful for. I found this very easy—I still do it in a limited way. Not a day goes by that I do not think of at least one thing for which I’m grateful, unconsciously, for half a second. It’s just habit.

Shocking, coming from a self-professed Cancer Curmudgeon, I know. But it IS true, I am able to do those cliché things each day—stop and smell roses, focus and be present for a few moments—all that crap. It just so happens my being in the present moment tends to have loud guitar soundtrack, which I’m sure is not what most would consider a peaceful moment—but hey, it works for me. That is a post for another time. The point is, as much so-called negative energy I send out via this blog (I don’t think I do, I’ve merely been accused of this), I’m much more balanced than I seem.

As I’ve said MANY times in various posts, including my About section, I AM grateful to be alive, for the treatment that stopped my cancer, for having an easier time of it than so many I seem to know, to still be in the 70% that has not yet had a metastatic recurrence. See what I did there? Put a positive spin on a terrible stat; see I can do it too!

I am even begrudgingly grateful for all the Pink cult mess that made the research and development for Herceptin possible. I’m all too AWARE (I hate that word) that having the “popular” cancer, the better funded cancer, improves my survival odds.

And there it is: this is where gratitude begins to feel like a burden.

I’ve had a few lightning bolt moments of being struck by this feeling of gratitude as burden over the past few years since I started this blog. I remember watching Lisa Bonchek Adams, Gayle Sulik, and Dr. Love on Al Jazeera a couple of years ago, and seeing the few tweets popping up along the bottom of the screen about the oversaturation of Pink. A few tweets seemed fed up with the ribbon on everything, but the ones that bothered me were the tweets that spoke of the success of the ribbons (a show discussing them is proof of their effectiveness!). The implied message was, don’t knock the ribbon, it worked because now we are aware and anything that brings more awareness is therefore good. There was also the misguided belief that Pink on everything has solely been responsible for breast cancer patients not having to suffer in silence anymore (see Breast Cancer Action’s history lesson).

I get lightning bolt moments of the burden anytime I scroll through comments on ANY criticism of Pink crap and/or sexy awareness ads. It is inevitable that at least one person will angrily comment about the lack of gratitude the breast cancer patient writer is expressing in the critique. The appearance of such a comment is more predictable than the best weather/economy/whatever forecast. And I’m not even going to go into some of the blog posts and articles that have appeared tsk-tsk-ing those of us who criticize Pink. I guess it is just a backlash to the backlash. Again, there is the message, said directly or implied, that anything that brings awareness is inherently good.

(Gonna pause right here and say awareness is not enough, I don’t want to go into that issue here, many others have, and I said my piece about it in Some Word Problems last year.)

But a really major lightning bolt moment is an article in an Australian publication from about a year ago, that I can no longer access, but I’d made notes to myself on it in an earlier draft of this post. The article was about the competition for funding and attention between the different cancers, and how breast cancer gets the most money BY FAR, although it was not nearly as lethal as other cancers. A woman interviewed worked for a breast cancer charity and recounted a story about an interaction she had with some big executive. He told her point blank that his business partnered with her organization because of the body part. He said something kind of crass, like if his wife got breast cancer it would be really hitting where he lives (sorry, cannot remember exact quote, just remember the “where he lives” part).

How many other partnerships were forged for the same reason? Probably more than I want to know.

Yes, I know I’ve benefited, directly and indirectly, from money funneled into breast cancer organizations because of this mentality. Whether it was an executive motivated by selfishness (I am GRATEFUL I am NOT his wife), or one of the local boobs and brews events, I’ve had the best/latest treatment, and received some useful care packages bought with funds raised by things like this. I repeat I AM GRATEFUL for all of this.

But how do I reconcile my gratitude for my benefits with my disgust with the methods used to buy them?

As I’ve mentioned in other posts, sometimes my blog is just me trying to work through my thoughts and emotions about cancer. I have not been able to work through this. I cannot reconcile my gratitude with disgust. The only way I’m dealing with it right now is by knowing that I am capable of experiencing numerous contrasting feelings at once.

When I started writing this post, I wondered if anyone else found gratitude to be a burden. I mindlessly Googled around one afternoon. I ran into the usual stuff—blogs from the self-help set, a quote or two from a historic figure. I stumbled on a HuffPo piecefrom a literature lecturer about gratitude being used almost as a weapon of sorts in some Austen novels. This analysis of a couple of novels actually made sense to me, in a VERY loose way. I don’t think the “you complaining breast cancer patients should just be grateful” finger-waggers are exactly viewing us as inferior, lower-class people (such as in the Austen stories, where the poor, unmarried girl has to benefit from the charity of society people to catch a husband and the stability of marriage).

But there IS a whiff of superiority in the attitudes and tones in these comments. Sometimes I get the impression the obligation of gratitude is being wielded like a ruler in the hands of an old timey teacher. And that ruler is being used to thwack the fingers of naughty breast cancer patients daring to challenge the status quo. And I don’t mean just patients who are blogging and writing articles. I mean anyone who has ever dared to grumble quietly among friends and family, and received that rebuke of ” be grateful” in return.

Perhaps it’s all in my mind. It does seem linked to the subtle, indirect blame ALL cancer patients get. Like: “you didn’t eat right/live healthy/think about sunbeams all day, so now you have cancer and you should just be grateful some smart people invented treatments no matter how those treatments were developed and you have no right to complain about anything because at least you are alive for one more day, and that should be good enough for you.” (Not going down the blame road today, either—see my old post Did You?)

The feeling of gratitude should NOT be a burden; that’s not what all the self-help mumbo jumbo is about. Gratitude is supposed to help one on the path to happiness. Well, that’s not happening here for me. What should I do about that? I mean, besides trying to work it out here on this blog?

I still do not really know. But I do know this: I felt increasingly disturbed by the Pink (by that I mean the be a happy warrior rah rah stuff, the sexualization, the pinkwashing, all of it) as I began treatment and hit a zenith right after treatment ended. I felt this disturbance before I ever found others with the same thoughts via social media. Every single day tons of women get this diagnosis. Some of them will go all in to embrace the Pink. But MANY others will have an experience similar to mine.

I don’t want my experience for these future breast cancer patients. Just because it “worked so far” (again, that is debatable, since, you know, there is still all this cancer out here), does NOT mean it will continue to work. Some would say, if it ain’t broke don’t fix it.

But guess what? It is broken. When gratitude makes me feel like shit, something is definitely broken.

Thank You All for Keeping It Real!

On behalf of @barbieslosingit, @bccww, @abcdiagnosis, @welliesandseaweed and myself: a big THANK YOU to everyone who participated in our #BreastCancerRealityCheck✅! Looks like the hashtag has gone viral!


There were so many wonderful, REAL tweets that stood out, that revealed truths about your lives, our lives. As promised, on Saturday we will announce the tweet we think most captured the spirit of this reality check—and a donation to a breast cancer research organization will be made in that tweeter’s name.

But #BreastCancerRealityCheck is clearly resonating and more than just one day. Keep using it—keep telling the unvarnished truth—to offset the feel good stories that seem to glut the airwaves this time of year.

For those who do not know—the hashtag had a humble beginning. After Rebecca Wilkinson’s Facebook post went viral and gained attention across the Interwebz, I re-shared an old post of my own—How About a What Cancer Really Does to Breasts Day? Annie (@barbieslosingit) thought, good idea—but the hashtag is too long. Soon Jo (@abcdiagnosis) suggested #BreastCancerRealityCheck and with the help of @bccww and @welliesandseaweed, a plan for a day of getting the reality about breast cancer out there—in the form of pictures or just words—was formed.

We’ve all kept it real, and hope everyone continues to keep it real. Of course the hashtag invites some to assume we were talking about self-checking the “boobies”—one leering tweet in particular is burned into my memory, sadly—but for the most part, our strong voices drowned out that noise.

Now, let’s keep it up! Will be back in a couple days with the most spirited tweet!


Complaining, Commiserating, and….Convincing?

my_logoComplaining doesn’t change anything, only actions make change. Be the change you want to see in the world.

I see these types of phrases tossed around a bit in Pinktober. Last year seemed to me particularly harsh in terms of those folks who embrace Pink (breast cancer patients, relatives, and patients with other cancers who resent the attention breast cancer gets) harshly reacting to any criticism of Pink. We should just be grateful, or “do something” to change this Pink nonsense if we don’t like it, I often read.

I surprise no one by saying that many folks find change difficult. Even those who say they like it, often don’t actively change as much as they could (yours truly falls in that category more often than I’d like). Cultural change is especially hard, even harder when most of society thinks everything is hunky dory.

I confess when I began this blog nearly four years ago I was all fired up—I was so excited to see other blogs criticizing the dominant Pink narrative, I added my voice and I thought surely, SURELY, the general public would HEAR US and begin to SEE. Ah, so young at age 40, wasn’t I?

OK fine, at least I found others who understood, even if the world ignored us and kept right on pouring Pink all over everything. So this blog mostly became a place for me to complain, and I hoped a place for like-minded patients to read my thoughts and feel a bit less alone, and to say so. Complaining and commiserating, that’s the ticket.

That said, I’ve often taken it a bit personally when I’ve read blogs or essays or even comments critical of the backlash to Pink—a backlash to the backlash I guess I’d call such pieces. Hell, I’ve even actually been called out once or twice, challenged to stop complaining and “do something”, though that “something” has never been specified.

I’ve said here and in other places that I do not consider myself an advocate. I am wary of that word. There are many leaders in the breast cancer community doing “real” work—going to health or cancer symposiums and the like. Still others know influential people and politicians and work hard to challenge and change laws. I would not be any good at either. My grasp on the science and medical knowledge to attend cancer seminars is tenuous at best. My patience and diplomatic skills are slim to none. And my primary interest in all of this anyway is the sociology of it all—why the hell society behaves this way, accepts Pink each year.

But how does one change culture? What can I possibly do? Nothing, I’ve told myself. Cultural change is too tricky and there are no measurable outcomes that make a big, earth-shaking impact. No new laws passed; no new treatment discovered, no change in medical protocols. So why bother? Do I like ramming my head into a wall?

But a challenge I heard recently and keep coming back to is this: how will people know why this Pink crap makes us crazy if we don’t tell them? Yes, there is a part of me that still is resistant here—after all, not long ago I wrote a post about how I refuse to provide a list of “cancer patient approved things that are OK to say to cancer patients”. I still hold that point of view (hint, because if people listen—they will KNOW what to say to their individual patient, and most importantly, what is OK to say to one of us will be horrible for another of us).

This year I just cannot bear another round of “Awareness”. This year, I will explain to anyone who will listen that Pinktober has become stagnant, we need to evolve from mere awareness to education, to full understanding of the even less-than-rah-rah-cheerful facts of breast cancer.

I start today, October 1, with our #BreastCancerRealityCheck✅ campaign. When asked, if you don’t like something, why don’t you change it, I have an answer. I AM trying to change it. Things are not hunky dory with the same tired old Pinktober. I will tell you all about it. I hope others do too. My question now to those call those of us who criticize Pink “complainers” is: Will you listen? Will you let us convince you?  

Join us in this change won’t you? Use #BreastCancerRealityCheck✅ when you tell it like it is today (now until Midnight Pacific Time). Keep it real. Join our Thunderclap. For more details, see my #BreastCancerRealityCheck page. Shout out the TRUTH!

Now, GO!!!

Thank YOU!!

You did it! Now 100 of us have signed up for the Thunderclap on Oct 1! Now we know our social media message will be sent out at 7am PDT/10am EDT/3pm BST. Thanks to everyone who signed up and shared our tweets, posts, and blog messages, urging your friends to join in to inject some reality into the same old tired pink narrative this Breast Cancer Awareness Month!


We still have much to do, of course. Keep urging others to sign up–the more tweets that go out at that moment on Saturday will only make our voices louder–and HEARD! Not only that, but continue to tweet out as many realities of your experience ALL DAY on Saturday. I know, I know. It is so much easier to just nod when someone says something irritating and clueless–because they have not had cancer and just don’t know. Well, rather than rolling our eyes and shrugging–let’s clue them in! Affect some change!

But right now, I’m taking a moment to breathe, to revel in my gratitude to all of you, for joining us on this crazy quest to try and start changing the narrative just a little. It’s true, I am a Curmudgeon–that will never change. But I am gleeful that so many of us share this load–and are willing to shout it out!

I can never thank you all enough!


Click the picture to sign up for the Thunderclap

We all want to give the world a #BreastCancerRealityCheck✅ on October 1, and we want the world to HEAR us! So we gotta get LOUD! To that end, a group of friends on Twitter formed Pink Is Not a Cure (PINC) just so we could create a Thunderclap—a sort of “social media flash mob.”

Some of you may already be familiar with Thunderclap and how it works, but some of you may not. Here’s the deal: We created a single tweet with the #BreastCancerRealityCheck✅ hashtag and everyone who signs up will have that single tweet sent out all at once (7am PDT/10am EDT/3pm BST):

“We don’t sugarcoat the truth: 1,430 will die today!  We need life-saving research. Join #BreastCancerRealityCheck✅”

*See bottom of this post for FAQ.  We need at least 100 of you to sign up so this tweet (and feel free to have the message sent out on your Facebook and Tumblr accounts as well) will be sent out on your behalf—but we’d love 1,000 to sign up! The idea, of course, is the more #BreastCancerRealityCheck✅ is in use, the more likely it will trend and attract attention. Hey, we need something to be heard over the din of Pinkness and whatever celebrity scandal will be happening that day!

Now, that is just the ONE tweet, we are still counting on everyone to craft their OWN creative and inventive tweets and tweet the heck out of them as often as possible, ALL DAY LONG. Which leads me to another exciting aspect: You Could Be Tweeting for Charity!

A panel of US and UK judges will pick the WINNING TWEET that best captures the spirit of this 1st Annual Breast Cancer Reality CheckDay. The person who contributes that winning tweet on October 1st will have money donated, in their name, to a US- or UK-based breast cancer charity advancing the kind of education and research that will SAVE LIVES. Symbolizing those 113 people (and many more worldwide!) lost to metastatic breast cancer on October 1st, the donation amount in the winner’s name will be £113 GBP (or $146 USD at current exchange rate). Winner will be announced and notified on Saturday, October 8th.

The general public is so accustomed to the usual pink din of October, they likely tune it out at this point. We wanna shake things up; inject some reality into this stagnant old pink ribbon fairy tale. Help us do that—put YOUR REALITY out there. For me, one of the best feelings I got after I started blogging was meeting people online who were NOT other cancer patients, who came to me and told me “I had no idea,” and now they don’t go along with the same old pink story each year either. They GET IT. It’s a GREAT feeling, being honest and changing minds!

*In case you are hesitant to sign up for this Thunderclap, know that they will not spam your friends, or tweet anything else on your behalf other than this single tweet—yes they do ask for access to your friends list—their FAQ page can explain all this way better, check it out: https://www.thunderclap.it/faq. And you must go there and sign up, not just like this blog post or the tweet inviting you to do this—you gotta go through the steps. It won’t take long and it’s painless. Trust me—I signed up for these things in the past and I have the patience and attention span of a gnat. If I can do it, so can you!

Visit our Thunderclap page by clicking here, the graphic at the top of the page, or the graphic below and please, please, please, sign up and participate!

How Did I Get Here?

This is gonna sound weird coming from someone who 1) is writing a blog about breast cancer and 2) is usually engaged with breast cancer social media users for a good portion of every day. But here goes: sometimes I forget how it is or why it is I came to be so involved. Do you see what I’m saying? I am simultaneously ultra-aware I had breast cancer but get caught up in criticizing Pink culture that when I stop and go to a doctor appointment, I still get that twinge: “How did I get here?” Then I hear the Talking Heads song (Once In a Lifetime) and visualize David Byrne in that damn big suit. “How did I get here,” he infamously asked.

Yes, it is ridiculous that I am still a bit shocked I had cancer. But sometimes I am. It is insane that at age 44, I gathered all my cancer records in my cancer binder and headed out as if it’s all old hat. Well, it IS old hat for me. Need I say it shouldn’t be old hat–not for anyone, not for people under the “average” age? Why the hell should there even BE an average age? Nothing…NOTHING average about the cancer experience–it really is just too strange and unexpected, and wrong.

I admit I get tired of it, of having had cancer and being in CancerLand. Yeah, yeah I know–this is when people could say to me, “then stop blogging, walk away, you’re basically done.” But I know better. I know my risk. And walking away won’t change the fact I still have to see Dr. Onco again a year from today. Pretending doesn’t change anything. Ignoring doesn’t change anything. And I would never be OK with myself for not at least trying to make this hideous experience a little less hideous for the patients diagnosed today, who will go into a sort of shock, who will turn up their nose at the status quo of pinkwashing.

So I do what I do, for better or worse.

20160922_154803-2I take a time out for this martini. Then back to trying to tell it like I see it: that pink drenched crap you see in the fluffy ads and in the stores? Yeah, it ain’t like that AT ALL.

To Educate This October

Most of us acknowledge “awareness” has been achieved, it is time for education. There are so many myths out there about breast cancer to be busted! Like how 1 in 8 is lifetime risk, not the risk a random 40 year old (non-BRCA) woman has. That’s just one of those fuzzy slogans that needs to be cleared up. What are some others? I’m not good with stats and numbers–but so many of you are–help me!

This anotheronewiththecancer blog of mine has been like a 4 years long gripe. I complain a lot, I know. And anyone would be right to ask me what I plan to do instead of just bitching. How can anyone expect people to know what it’s REALLY like to have breast cancer unless we tell people? How can people know that getting reconstruction is not a simple,”boob job” unless we explain how it’s different? How can people know how much we fear recurrence and that can happen even after that magical, mythical 5 year mark? How can people know that completing treatment doesn’t equal being “all done”, that in fact, my oncologist’s phone number will be in my contact list for a whole ten years? For that matter how can people understand that for metastatic patients treatment NEVER ends, until death? (Check out the Laurie Becklund video and my post about these issues in The Next Time Round.)


On October 1st, please join us in educating, in setting the record straight, in injecting some reality into the perky Pink slogans that will saturate all media and even our in real life experiences for 31 days. Use #BreastCancerRealityCheck and tell people all kinds of things that you wish they knew! We’d especially like this to get trending on Twitter–so, tweet, tweet, tweet!

I for one, and I suspect many of you who read my blog, am just so tired of all slogans. I’m compiling a list of things I want people to know. All under 140 characters, which if you’ve read my long-winded blog posts over the years, you know how tough it is for me!

We so often say it is time for education, the time for awareness is over. So, in the spirit of Fall, let’s take the public back to school.

No Participation Award For You

I will try not to be harsh when I say to anyone out there doing the silly “awareness” selfies, doffing your bra (groan), or even buying useless products with ribbons, that you are not accomplishing much of anything. And therefore you do not deserve applause, gratitude, or the right to gloat, “I helped.” Stick with me, and I’ll suggest a few ways to rectify this. But first you need to understand what is going on here.


Since I do not have children, I don’t really have an opinion about the ongoing issue of so-called participation trophies or entitlement awards—you know, little do-dads given to kids just for playing a sport, showing up, etc. I am not a sociologist/psychologist, so I only have a vague idea of the effect these awards had on those kids—now adults. Apparently they are unable able to handle disappointment and other life issues, because they no longer get recognition for every little thing they do, successful or not. 

Now I must pause to say I do reward myself for the little things, especially these days after cancer. Hey, if I get dressed with matching socks, remember to get something at the store without it being on a list—that is an excuse for a party in my book, thanks to chemo brain. I give myself a mental smiley face sticker for remembering enough of my phone numbers, password codes, and etc. to get through a day. So maybe I’m just as bad here. I don’t know.

That guilty admission out of the way, I am going to criticize the culture of participation awards as I see it in current awareness campaigns. This is an idea that was a mere seed for a long while in my brain, and exploded recently with all the articles written about Wilkinson. I’ve touched on the issue in past posts, so I’m bound to repeat myself here.

(And no, I’m NOT picking on Millennials, I don’t care about that. I’ve seen the “anything for awareness is good no matter how unsavory it is” attitude displayed by people of every generation. So settle down.)

It has been stated many times by my own self and thousands of other cancer social media participants that we have reached awareness of cancer, especially breast cancer. So any time I see “awareness” stunts online, I AM going to call bullshit. True there is still some lack of awareness in under-served communities but I’m not sure a meme is the best way to reach out. If they haven’t become aware with the repeated yearly gimmicks, which only plays to the same target market, they will not now. So shut that shit argument down now.  

Now on to the tougher aspect–all those people who react to angry breast cancer patients’ criticism with these standard replies I’ve seen only about a million times in the past few years:

“Maybe we aren’t making anyone aware, but we’re showing our support for you,”  (see my post Supporting the Show) which leads to–

“Why are you so ungrateful–we’re doing this for you!! If it weren’t for the pink ribbons and races and yes even the boobies games, we’d still be in the dark ages where no one dared to even say ‘breast cancer’,” (see my post Burden of Gratitude) and sometimes this leads to the nastiest reaction of all–

“If you ungrateful breast cancer negative nancies keep complaining and criticizing how we show support, maybe we’ll just stop supporting you.” Interesting. A threat couched in the message that all support–awareness raising or fund raising–is contingent on the recipients showing gratitude for the crumbs of attention. More proof, as if I needed it, that some people support for self-display, not because it is the right thing to do.

Yes, I said crumbs. Because that is how so much of this makes me feel. That I should be “grateful” for the attention–any attention–my disease gets, even if that attention has not reduced the rate of death, the likelihood that I’ll have a metastatic recurrence.  There is a whiff of “take what little you can get and be happy about it” that just unsettles me.

So I ask, how does that braless selfie picture help me–in real, hard, factual terms? Yes, assign it a dollar value. No, I do not want vague explanations of how the spectacle raises the profile of breast cancer, keeps it on people’s minds, so they donate, so politicians assign funding specifically to breast cancer research when federal money is to be granted.

I don’t want the fuzzy intangibles. I want something I can use. I want metsters to NOT die, I want so-called “survivors” (still hate that term), like myself, to have a guarantee that recurrence will NOT happen, and I want future women to NEVER get it. No I don’t think I am asking for too much. 

Or in lieu of funding research, how about this? I’ll assign a different value to a selfie, to a bald cap, to a braless day. Instead of one selfie, one trip to the grocery store for your friend in treatment so they don’t have to go out with their compromised immunity. Yes, you’re buying. I trade one bald cap/solidarity head shave for one ride to the treatment appointment at the cancer center. Keep your damn bra on, and go clean her house.

So I revisit the question I asked at the beginning. Am I being harsh? Yes. This is a topic that makes me as angry as I was in October of 2012, having just finished treatment and dealing with depression when the enormity of how awful Pinktober first REALLY hit me (I was never a fan before, and the first 2 Octobers I spent as a resident in CancerLand, I was just overwhelmed with diagnosis and treatment). My, OUR, needs are tangible, and games, gimmicks, and sexualization that isn’t even original is NOT working. So how can anyone expect me to applaud useless gestures, when those gestures won’t guarantee I make it to 50 or 60 years old?

When I see those comments that if we don’t stop complaining about gimmicks that maybe all support will be pulled from under us like a rug, I just…I’m still astonished. We are telling you what we need, what is better, and you will not listen.

Do the tasks I suggested. Or if you want to simply donate money, look up a reputable charity that actually puts money into science rather than marketing more awareness events. You can do it, if you’re reading this, you’re on the internet with information a click away. Start treating charitable giving like investments, like car-buying. Think!

Am I harsh? Yes. Look back on 4 years of this blog and look at what I call myself–what did you expect? Cancer is not a barrel of laughs, neither am I. Why did you think “fighting” it would be one?

The time for coddling the public is over. Awareness is more or less achieved. It is time to graduate school/college, to roll up the sleeves and get to work. To adult. Yes, I find adulting hard too, even now, after having to adult during cancer. But it must be done. We are grown up now. No more games and silly frat party crap.

Children who got participation awards apparently learned a harsh lesson when they entered the workforce, or were even unable to do so because of a bad economy. They learned there was no trophy for trying–but failing–to get that job, or to succeed. Likewise, there is no “you tried” award ribbon for a useless “awareness” gesture. I hate to be over-dramatic or use the hyperbole so often used in cancer slogans. But cancer can, and often does, lead to death. Or at least to a life with some shitty side effects that last FOREVER. It is a zero-sum game for too many. So I don’t have time for someone’s hurt feelings when I point out that taking off a bra doesn’t help us.

Am I harsh? What the hell do you think cancer is?

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