Greener Grass – The Disease Olympics Part 2

OK, Part 2 has 2 heads, how appropriate. See Part 1 here.

Where to start?! I’ll just plunge in with inter-disease races first then move on to the intra-cancer comparisons. Please note, that while this post is going to be critical of how other illness advocates present their message, I am so NOT saying their messages are not valid. Indeed they are valid, but the lack of knowledge and understanding is distracting for me, so I’m calling it out.

tumblr_na66sksUrN1qg3yejo1_1280My annoyance with the disease comparisons spiked over a year ago (or 2 years?) when I saw this screen grab of a tweet from a comedian I’d never really heard of. It set me off because of the fight language and the blame issue. Puh-leeze. I’ve written enough about how people with cancer are blamed, and so have others (see Blaming the Cancer Patient). My first thought was, has he never spoken to a lung cancer patient? What is the first thing lung cancer patients hear? “Oh did you smoke?” News alert! That is blaming at its finest, most insidious! And we blame cancer when someone dies do we? Um, no. If that were true the headlines would always read: “Cancer Kills Another Pop Star”, rather than the one we nearly ALWAYS see: “So and So Lost Their Battle with Cancer.” Language, word choice and placement matter greatly. But perhaps I’m being too harsh on this guy. Maybe it’s only when we live here in CancerLand that we notice these subtle language gymnastics.

My frustration with the mental illness awareness campaigns intensified even more when “Supernatural” star Jared Padalecki, in a “People” magazine interview promoting his new charity, said, “If somebody has cancer, they’re not embarrassed to have cancer – they know it’s not their fault. They know it’s a struggle. But, for some reason, if someone says they’re depressed, they assume that people are going to look at them like they have three heads.” Again with this bizarre notion that cancer patients are universally supported and never blamed, do not suffer from feelings of self-blame. Again I wonder if Padalecki even knows any lung cancer patients, who are notoriously blamed for their predicament.

At the bottom of this post I include a few links to articles about cancer patients and guilt/self-blame—it isn’t just me who blamed myself. As I noted in my “Did You?” post ages ago, we are bombarded with headlines on magazines, or just any media at all with quotes like: “eat this magic food to prevent these kinds of cancers”, or “50% of all cancers are preventable by modifying diet and exercise,” (it is Otis Brawley, Chief Medical Officer of the American Cancer Society who often says something like that). Cancer patients “know it’s not their fault”????!!! Really????!!! I guess big stars live in a bubble and don’t read headlines on magazines in grocery check-out lines. Because it was those headlines while waiting in lines that really contributed to some of my post-treatment depression, my constant self blame.

Look, I agree, mental illness has a stigma. In writing this post I pondered whether to reveal the fact I’ve been on medication before and after my own cancer diagnosis for mild depression—I’ve been on it for years. I figured people would think 1) that my depression is why I’m a Curmudgeon (no, I’m medicated and still like this) and 2) I’m trying to validate my stance by saying I’m part of the mental illness community. I’m not; I’m merely trying to consider this from all angles.

But here is what I suspect is going on, and I might be 100% wrong. The messages of “if we have not been personally touched by cancer we know someone who has” have convinced society that everyone “knows” cancer. That really isn’t the same thing—a lesson that crashed down on my head soon after my own diagnosis. For me, and I suspect many others, cancer is nothing like the way it is shown in media fiction and PSAs. But now the general public is convinced that cancer patients are never blamed because they are not blamed in the TV ads—and so there is a bizarre disconnect from reality. But that disconnect doesn’t seem to stop spokespersons for other causes from using these falsehoods as a frame of reference to push their own agendas. They buy into the notion that the cancer patient is universally supported by the races and loved ones. They know nothing of the Institutional Knowledge I think comes to a cancer patient who has done a little time in cancer social media circles.

This frame of reference is used to the extreme every February, women’s heart disease awareness month. Sure, the stat about heart disease being more deadly than breast cancer is bandied about all year long, but February is intense. Breast cancer patients and the general population don’t even have time to recover from Pinktober shoving breast cancer down our throats when heart disease spokespeople begin over-using the phrase “breast cancer” all over again. I’ve long suspected the tide is turning in the perceived support for rah-rah Pinktober—there are more and more critiques and complaints about it each year.  What does this do to people’s minds, their subconscious? Are they hearing the warnings about heart problems or are they hearing that damned phrase “breast cancer” and turning their mind off? Breast cancer awareness suffers from over-exposure, and this is made worse when advocates for other health issues use that over-exposure to sell their own cause. Gee, thanks a lot.

Still, advocates for heart illness awareness have a point. Breast cancer has wrongfully become a bigger monster in the minds of women than heart disease. Breast cancer organizations AND the medical industry both are directly to blame for this. Early this year I wrote about a new cancer center built in my area dedicated to women’s health, but the advertising was all about breast health. Breast cancer is a proxy for women’s health. No mention of the more deadly heart disease in the magazine article/free advertising I read about the new center. No wonder heart disease advocates are frustrated. Cancer is the boogeyman the health industry uses on us, to the detriment of education about other, more pressing disasters.

Full disclosure, my maternal grandmother was diagnosed with breast cancer as she was hospitalized while dying of heart disease. She was not treated for her cancer, obviously. Both my mother and her sister (the aunt who was diagnosed with breast cancer 2 months before I was) were on blood pressure and other heart-related medications at an age younger than I am now—I am currently not. I always figured heart-blood things were going to be my future. Cancer was not even in my peripheral vision. Just another reason why I always say I was blindsided or sucker punched by breast cancer. So in many ways, my personal story is the opposite of what is considered “the norm”.

Again, I think the heart disease advocates’ message is valid, I’m just frustrated with the way they choose to present it—by using breast cancer. I was told on Twitter just the other day that saying heart disease kills more people does not diminish the breast cancer issue, it is merely an attempt to bring awareness. But the truth is, saying one thing is worse than another is inherently making a competitive comparison. Is heart disease worse in this particular competition, due to its higher body count? Yes. But it still causes me to wince—because as the previous paragraph describes, cancer seems to be the bigger problem for me at this stage of my life.

Please note I’m not taking sides here—everyone is to blame. This situation is just beyond fucked up. And no, I don’t have a solution to offer except: stop using cancer/breast cancer as a tool in your campaigns. The assumptions made about what it’s really like to have cancer are not always accurate. And using breast cancer to make a point, as a frame of reference may not result in directing attention where it needs to go–in the instance of this tired Curmudgeon, I merely stop listening altogether; I wonder how many others do too.

I get tired of seeing graphics created by a variety of organizations saying their disease-afflicted body part is just as important as “boobs” (I hate that word, see Some Word Problems), that their disease is not pink. (Thank you to @bccww for helping me find some of these things and helping with this post!) I know some folks have gotten riled up about it on Facebook. I see both sides of the argument. The advocates for other diseases see all the attention breast cancer gets and are motivated to both strike out at it and use it to get attention for their own cause. Advocates for other kinds of cancer use the tactic too, with the ever-present “Not all cancers are pink”, featuring a ribbon of some other color, associated with the cancer being represented. What everyone fails to realize in these moments is that many breast cancer patients hate Pink, does not recognize those who say repeatedly, cancer is not pink, or the color pink is not the actual cure. I hate the color divides. Sigh.

And with this I turn to the intra-cancer comparisons.

That Pancreatic Cancer Action PSA is a shining example of how frustrating the whole “this kind of cancer is easy, mine is much worse” scenario is. The best response to the whole ad was I Hate Breast Cancer’s line:  “If you’re going to wish for breast cancer, make sure you put in a special request for the non-metastatic kind.”

Because guess what, so many people think breast cancer is all solved, never causes death anymore! And yes, I realize the metsters will point out breast cancer is NOT deadly, only metastatic breast cancer is—I’ll deal with one downmanship within breast cancer patients in the next post.

Like the mental illness, heart disease, and all other health issue campaigns, advocates for other cancers have swallowed the Pink Kool-Aid and concluded that all of us with breast cancer are wearing pink feather boas and having some kind of party—or so it seems to me when I see crap like this. I guess this makes it easier to use breast cancer as a scapegoat (see What Is It About Breast Cancer That makes It Everyone’s Scapegoat?

I’ve written about this issue a few times before: Does Breast Cancer Owe It To Other Cancers, First Ribbon Problems, and Want Attention? Just Say Breast Cancer. I’ve probably said most of what I think in those posts, but here is just a little more.

The biggest divide I perceive is between lung cancer and breast cancer—again because of the higher body count lung cancer causes. I once read an article by a woman who had both cancers and unequivocally claimed lung was worse because of the stigma associated with it (I cannot locate it or I’d link it here). She claimed she was never blamed or asked behavioral questions about her breast cancer. Well bully for her, I did not have the same experience. Even with that sentence I see I still have resentment toward her and her article, when it really should be aimed at the public—for asking stupid questions out of fear, out of a need to have imaginary control over their own cancer risks (again, read Did You?—I said all I need to say there). But I remain frustrated at the reinforcement of the idea that no breast cancer patient ever has had to put up with some blame, yes, even when it is significantly less than lung cancer patients. I don’t like anything that does not give a full and clear picture of the truth.

Some time ago I read another piece about the lung cancer stigma, and it was fantastic. It posed the question if lung cancer patients who had smoked deserved less compassion than those who had not, a very scary question and response. I agreed with the author on so many fronts except maybe one. She was a big supporter of all pink races and activities and was not suggesting that breast cancer awareness should tone it down. I’m not so sure about that. I’ve said it before and say it again: awareness is a two-way street. Are the pink-crazed party, oops, I mean, race, organizers at all aware of the fallout they’ve created? The animosity?

I’m not “picking on” lung cancer, I just know it has the higher body count. There is quite a bit of bad blood between breast cancer and gynecological cancers too. A local breast cancer ONLY support organization is called Women Supporting Women. (Disclosure–yes they were good to me upon my own diagnosis, although ultimately I got more support from the center at which I was treated, near my work, not my home.) WSW was founded by a breast cancer survivor for women with breast cancer. They took a beating on Facebook some months ago–several people piping up and asking why there was not a race for kidney, pancreatic, etc, cancer. Their answer was that breast cancer was what they were founded for. I get that, but their name is misleading–at the very least include the gynecological cancers! But I don’t sense change coming anytime soon.

I’ve had people tell me quite bluntly: “If I get to pick, Id (sic) rather get boob cancer. You can live without those and people tread(sic) you with love, caring and compassion when you get that cancer.” People get very angry when breast cancer patients, with our perceived advantages, complain, when we bite the hand that feeds. I used to think yes, breast cancer patients have an obligation to advocate for other kinds of cancer because of the bullying of the Pink ribbon. But these days I don’t think so. Too many have bought into the ideas of breast cancer, and think we are ungrateful (see Burden of Gratitude), and I’m not sure their minds can be changed. I’m sure to get flak for this post too, and I can direct people to all the older posts I’ve written, explaining my ambivalence about this topic, but it will be to no avail. So I ask my questions and expect no answers or solutions.

Breast cancer patients contribute to the misconceptions at times, too. There was an awful piece in HuffPo a couple of years ago—I will not link to it because I am aware that the author of the piece was sorry about the insult to other cancer patients. She did claim however, that some cancers, such as thyroid, are easier than others in terms of treatment and survival. Needless to say the thyroid cancer community roared back in the comments to the point that it became just piling on, with later comments not contributing new insights, just being nasty. Her overall piece, a list of truths or realities one only gets upon actually getting cancer, was quite good—it was a shame the Cancer Olympics got in the way–and yes she put it there.

I’ve also read MANY times breast cancer patients, soooo angry about the sexualization of breast cancer, ask, how about we treat other cancers the same way? It is a tone deaf question, and a foolish one. Many patients with other cancers, lacking a good prognosis due to lack of research, from a lack of—you guessed it—funds from silly sexy breast cancer awareness campaigns, would be oh so glad to have a butt cancer campaign, or whatever, to get the same “status” breast cancer occupies. As much as I hate the sexualization, this is a bad strategy in my book. Again, I explained all of this in Burden of Gratitude. When I see that kind “let’s sexualize prostate cancer” crap I groan–this is exactly why I hate comparing cancer.

Ultimately we all suffer from a common disease: The Grass Is Always Greener On the Other Side of the Fence Disease. Mental Illness patients look to cancer and think all cancer patients get tons of support and no blame—they only see the green grass of having cancer. Heart disease advocates see a disease with a lower incident rate yet higher funding income and just see our green grass. Patients with any other kind of cancer that isn’t breast see our green grass—or pink as the case may be. We breast cancer patients wonder about the greener pastures over on other sides of fences too. None of us completely see the brown, dead grass patches on those other sides. And I think those brown patches are spreading, maybe they’ll be harder to miss.

I’ve written this before but it bears repeating: the high or low body count doesn’t matter to the one doing the dying, or to the ones that love them. I think often of the example of Beastie Boys’ Adam Yauch, who died not long after I completed treatment, of salivary gland cancer. It’s an extremely rare cancer, so it won’t be labeled an epidemic, people won’t make signs and t-shirts exclusively for it; it will merely be lumped into the fights for “all cancers”. But how is that rarity a comfort to his family, to his fans? His death at age 47—a number I’m fast approaching—was still horrible. We can argue about which disease community has it the worst all damn day. The answer will always be not one community—no, it will be the dead, regardless of the cause, and their loved ones. They have it the worst. There’s no competition.

The blame or guilt of cancer patient links as referred to above:

http://well.blogs.nytimes.com/2012/06/14/life-interrupted-feeling-guilty-about-cancer/?_r=0

http://www.cancer.net/coping-and-emotions/managing-emotions/coping-guilt

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/barbara-jacoby/stop-making-cancer-patien_b_6169134.html

https://vimeo.com/60463850

Part 3 is on the way, about how horrible we breast cancer patients can get toward one another.

 

 

 

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.

 

Cake

jory-howyoudoin

“Yeah, but bacon tastes good. Pork chops taste good”

 –“Pulp Fiction”, 1994

While I was ranting in the previous post about how the media treated the recent death of Gandolfini, I began ranting about how TV doctors, commercials, and other media go on and on about healthy diets, and soon I was going on and on and on about food and weight loss and the judge-y judgertons on TV, and had wandered away from just fussing about Gandolfini and how his death got treated. I realized just how much media messages about diet and weight bother me.

I call this post “Cake”, but I don’t just mean cake; I’m using that one four lettered food item to stand for:

Ice cream

Chocolate

Cookies

Fried chicken, oh heck, all fried foods, fried stuff with cheese, to quote Joey Tribbiani

Rare steak

Fudge

Bacon

Cookies

Cheeseburger, cheeseburger, cheeseburger

Pie

Mayonnaise

Brownies

Mac-n-cheese

Potatoes

sam

Candy

Fruit juice (not the real, 100% juice kind)

Coca-cola (I mean all soft drinks, where I’m from Coke means any syrupy, carbonated beverage)

Wine

Vodka

Biscuits

Pasta

Waffles

Food smothered in any kind of creamy sauce, mmm, like Alfredo

Sweet tea

Pizza

Spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, spam, lovely spam, wonderful spam

In other words, every food or drink that is awesome but is aiming to kill me. For the record, I don’t like soft drinks or soda pop (whatever your region calls it), or pie, or spam (my favorite song), but I’m listing foods that I know many others enjoy.

Now, I love when y’all comment on my posts, but I gotta ask this time that no one leave me a lecture about healthy diet and exercise, or moderation. I don’t eat a box of pasta and a jar of sauce every night for supper. I get the concept of moderation. This post, in combination with the preceding one, should explain that I GET IT, I just feel like I’m being lectured all the time with the constant messages about losing weight. Liberal media, Right wing media, shoooooot, Diet media is more like it. Sometimes I think that whole Cancer Thing I had there was just a plot constructed by The Smoking Man to get me to eat a damn salad. (Kidding, I ate salad in my BC—before cancer—era, I just do it more now). Who is The Smoking Man? OMG, stop reading and go stream all episodes of “The X-Files”, like right now, before I sic the unmarked helicopters on you. My love for that show probably explains too much of my blog.

Anyway.

You guessed it; this is just a humor post, me blowing off steam by going to the ridiculous extreme. I’m just complaining, and kicking against this constant need to behave sensibly that cancer seems to have imposed on me. No, this post was written by the six year old me, and she is cranky. And she wants a donut.

But in all seriousness, the issue of weight in all health-related pieces I see or read is really making my blood boil lately, and Gandolfini was the last straw. Wanna hear something stupid? BC, I was not overweight at all. I was in the correct weight span for my height. Was my BMI perfect? Doubtful. Was I a pleasing shape? No, I looked like—and still look like—a marshmallow with toothpicks for arms and legs, because all my weight gain goes to the middle, turning me into a box shape (oh yeah, forgot marshmallows in above list—but I don’t like them either). Was I fit or in shape? I’m not sure; I mean I had two physical jobs that required me to be active and do lots of heavy lifting. So, no I wasn’t in the gym, mostly because I was busy, working my ass off to get the money to pay the bills. I had no immediate health risk factors for anything really, other than my family (genetically and you know, stressing me out, driving me crazy).

Now, post-treatment, yeah, I’ve put on some extra pounds, and that has everything to do with chemo. During those first awful weeks of chemo, I hated all food and doubted I’d ever want to eat again (and yeah, lost ten pounds very quickly, my pants kept falling down, plumber butt!). Two years after chemo ended, and the smell of most foods do not make me nauseous anymore, it’s like I still cannot quite believe my good fortune at getting my appetite back. I’m like a kid in a candy store, or cake store, or steak store, or fried chicken store, or caramel popcorn store, or…you get the idea. So, I wasn’t overweight before cancer, I gain it after cancer because I missed the taste of food so much, and now all I hear is: fat causes cancer. I just want to scream! I can’t win for losing. So if I get cancer again, can I sue chemo treatments for making me appreciate food anew, and therefore causing me to overeat and get fat causing me to get more cancer? Yes I’m being facetious and sarcastic, to make a point.

I’ve been rolling my eyes lately at the commercials in which a woman is confronted with a donut or cake or a person dressed up as a cupcake or some such nonsense, and she chooses the healthy fruit-filled cracker-like snack. It’s just so stupid. That supposedly healthy choice is not at all healthy (preservatives, empty calories, and all kinds of other crap) and it is just so unrealistic. I would take that cracker and throw it, and then devour the cake. The ad doesn’t make me buy their product; it does make me cook fatty foods. I once watched a film about food that started off promising, talking about why humans crave the carbs and sugars and what not, but then it turns into what seems like an ad for juicing (I did not check, but I can take a guess at what or who funded this documentary). Not once in any of these types of commercials/films/shows does anyone acknowledge a basic truth:

CAKE TASTES GOOD AND THAT IS WHY I WANT IT. All the fancy juices and jam filled crackers in the world will not change that fact, why will no one admit this?

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I do not have great will power, but when I do manage to exert even just a little will power, it comes from admitting to myself that hey—I want that cake (or any tasty food) because I LIKE IT. I don’t stupidly pretend that better-for-me foods will give me even half the joy or satisfaction the cake could give me.  Otherwise being healthy would be easy, and I would not need films, commercials, and talking head TV doctors lecturing me. Of course, this line of discussion gets too close to that Kate Moss quote (“nothing tastes as good as skinny feels”).

Of course, that opens a whole other can of worms doesn’t it? A friend with numerous chronic illnesses (none of them being cancer) must avoid fats and sugars to avoid going from feeling bad to worse. It is like a simple mathematical equation for her: Insert cake into mouth = feel terrible all night. Lucky for her, she is one of those people who just don’t care much about food, and cutting out certain foods doesn’t faze her, she never misses any of them. Well, that ain’t the case for me and the equation is not so simple in cancer. Being fat is a risk factor but not an absolute. Cutting out all the things I love (wine, chocolate) does not give me a 100% guarantee, and I want that guarantee. And again, don’t send me a lecture, because I’ve heard the argument: being fat is a risk for the post cancer woman because then she’ll just die of a heart attack, if not cancer. Gee, thanks. Health nuts get their panties in a twist about this one all the time, I know it, I understand it. Now, can I have a piece of cheesecake to enjoy?

Sigh, guess I just have to file this problem under the “life’s not fair” section, and muddle on.

But maybe my real point, in all this fussing, whining, and moaning I’m doing here today is this: I have a sneaking suspicion that cancer has made me afraid of enjoying some of the simple things in life I used to like. I wanna go outside; nope, pesticides. I wanna go to the beach; nope, sun = skin cancer. I wanna dye my hair magenta again; nope carcinogens in beauty products. I wanna eat something good; nope, I’ll get fat. It’s like I live in a world full of “nope” now. No, I’m not being so drastic or extreme as to suggest that for all the limits on my life now maybe I should’ve just given up when I got cancer. Not at all. Just sayin’ real simple-like, I know a life-long health-nut guy who stopped eating sugar and his Lymphoma keeps coming back. Remember—no guarantees. All I’m saying is, I could take those twigs on TV a little better if they’d just admit they want the cake, rather than putting their noses in the air, piously waving the sweet treat away and then downing a glass of something that looks like liquefied crap that came out of the lawn mower.

plate

A friend sent me a quote once about not just wanting to survive, but wanting to live. If I can get 10 to 20 more years, well, by golly, they will be ice cream-filled years. Now that is L-I-V-I-N’.

Can We Not Have A Teachable Moment Just This Once

You’d think after that eruption I had a couple of weekends ago I would have stopped following the “Time” magazine health blog. But apparently my idea of fun is hitting myself upside the head with a 2 x 4. I kept getting their posts on my reader, until yesterday. So what pushed me over the edge?

Last Wednesday evening when I heard James Gandolfini died of a heart attack I was at first sad; although I was not a big fan or anything, he was a great actor who happened to be very famous for creating an icon (in my humble opinion, famous people who act for their profession are often NOT very good at it, but he was, let’s get that distinction out there, clearly—and also acknowledge that the best actors are often not famous). Bottom line, I did admire his work if I saw it, but gave him little thought otherwise. I hated the thought I had a split second after hearing the news: oh man, when are they going to start talking about his weight, relating it to his death?

Sure enough, a few hours later talking head doctors are all over the news programs like flies on shit. The next morning, all the morning shows (why the hell do I keep turning these things on? I could remove my risk factor for stroke and nervous breakdown by not watching these shows) had their on-staff health reporters talking about Gandolfini’s past with substance abuse and of course, his weight. I started writing this post on that day, but luckily, all the chatter died down (or I was just outdoors enjoying summer more, out of touch with TV and internet), so I put it aside. Then yesterday I check my WordPress reader and I see a post from “Time” tying Gandolfini’s weight, and his death, with the concept of “the Family” (read: mobsters), and how everyone has the obligation to take care of the self as a part of taking care of their own family/”Family”; a humorous (I guess) nudge that even the mobsters reading the post need to get fit, for the sake of others, you know, if they won’t do it for themselves. The post was weak and silly and said nothing new.

The worst part of the post, however, was a claim that all the other coverage of this event ignored Gandolfini’s weight, contending that commentators sidestepped the topic, saying if an anorexic starlet had been the dead person in question, the health concerns of being too thin would’ve been talked about immediately.

Say whut?

The blog post’s author was apparently not watching/reading the same stuff as I, in which THE WEIGHT was a BIG talking point. No one was being “coy” (author’s word, not mine). In fact, one of the points I wanted to make when I started writing this post—before trashing it last week and reviving it now—was the subtle implication that when someone dies of heart attack (or gets some other disease, like cancer) and they are the least bit overweight, well, gosh darn it all, they’re just asking for it, and they got themselves into this fix because they are fat lazy slobs. Just the fact the on-staff medical reporters were immediately dragged in front of the cameras the morning after to talk about heart disease prevention was, to me, a quiet indictment of Gandolfini, a gentle finger point: this could have been prevented had he eliminated his risk factor (as in, slimmed down). Oh sure, they make sad faces and express sorrow over the treasured celebrity’s death, but in saying “you can prevent this from happening to yourself” while they pull the sad face, they are saying/not saying, “he brought it on himself”. One talking head doctor actually said the phrase “if any good can come out of this” when saying this event is an opportunity for viewers to start becoming aware of their own risk factors. The insensitivity shocked me, but why? Having cancer my own self taught me that some people, when confronted by the sick person, start calculating their own risks, assuring themselves that their diet is better than the patient’s, so they’re “safe”, all the while expressing sadness and comfort to the patient’s face. I remember practically being able to see the wheels in some folks’ heads turning this idea over and over, while they spoke to me, and asked me about my sugar intake.

So you may be thinking to yourself, why is the ol’ Curmudgeon bitching about this? Of course heart disease, being overweight, and substance abuse are dangerous and we all need to take care of ourselves. I get it, being overweight causes problems; I don’t need convincing arguments. I’ve no quarrel with any of this. Yes, we do need to take care of ourselves and I have no objection to creating new healthy habits and taking better care of their bodies—I’ve done it myself. My stupidest example? I LOATHE tomatoes but eat them anyway because they are supposed to be great at preventing cancer.

But why does it take a celebrity event for the public to become aware of health threats? Is there really anyone out there thinking, “OMG, James Gandolfini can die of a heart attack, so maybe I might too?” C’mon, do you really need Dr. Pretty Hair Know It All On TV to tell you this stuff? I learned about health and nutrition in school and high school graduation is now an over 20-year-old event for me, so it’s not like teaching it is new. Are they no longer going over this stuff in school? Was it not covered when the Boomers were in school? But somehow I doubt Boomers are still ignorant of basic health knowledge. I mean, look at the cover of every periodical in the grocery store, rambling on and on about this protects you from cancer, this causes heart disease, yada yada. Info about weight, exercise, not drinking, and all the usual suspects, is the topic of so many news items on TV, so many daytime programs, on the cover of so many magazines, to me it seems impossible to avoid knowing the basics (this is not to say the headlines and abbreviated segments on the news really give in depth coverage of these health topics, I’m sure misinformation and misinterpretation thrives, but the basic message–lose some weight–is there). Messages about proper diet and exercise are everywhere, how the hell are people missing it? Why are talking heads acting like this is all brand new info?

I guess there are a few reasons I’ve not thought about until now. First and foremost is that since the health messages are so plentiful, they have become white noise. I know I tend to tune out every time I hear about some new health property about a mundane food…I’ve heard it all before, and if I hate that food, it could make monkeys fly out of my butt, I still ain’t gonna eat it. (Ha ha, that is a lie, I just admitted to the tomato project. But still, you can tell me yogurt could turn me into the Queen of England, and I won’t eat it. That crap might as well be flavored snot for all it doesn’t appeal to me). I probably register only about 10% of the messages that bombard me; yet the few I do hear annoy me enough to write this post, (maniacal laughter)!! Maybe everyone is distracted by shinier topics: who cares if blueberries can prolong life, because OMG, a Kardashian did something and Miley Cyrus is smoking weed with Snoop Lion! (That sentence alone should make one realize that celebrities should NEVER be role models). Maybe everyone in my demographic already HAS the message, but the messengers have yet to figure out how to reach the other target audiences (yes, I’ve covered this issue before), so they just keep repeating it into the ether, hoping the message will land on the right ears, eventually. And maybe, just maybe—and listen up, this is my favorite idea—we know what is good and bad food, and we just keep eating the bad food because it is yummy. Ooooo, that topic is a whole other blog post (stay tuned).

Side note: I recently ingested a tidbit, not sure where or how (read it, heard it, saw it on YouTube), about how doctors don’t discuss healthy diet and exercise with their patients, and that is going to change in the future. But given the messed up state of health care, not sure how it will help since the people most in need of hearing the message can’t afford to go to the doctor unless it is an emergency type deal. Just sayin’.   

stefon

The other problem with weight is that it such an easy target for those people who get attached to a concept I call “The One Thing”. Allow me to channel SNL’s Stefon for a moment to explain “The One Thing”:

It’s that thing, where people get all hung up on one idea and think it’s the only thing causing all the problems. This concept has everything: simplicity, the luxury of ignoring other ideas, single-mindedness, DJ Baby Bok Choy.

Ha ha, just kidding on that last one (if you’re unfamiliar with SNL’s Stefon, give yourself a time-out laugh and look up one of his sketches).

The best/worst example I saw of “The One Thing” kind of thinking was in some comments about AJ’s Big Announcement. The commenter thought AJ’s action unnecessary because according to this person, the root of all ills, especially cancer, is second-hand smoke (not even, you know, just smoking, whew!), and went on and on and on for several loooong paragraphs about that and ONLY that, to the exclusion of any other idea. My reaction (and I bet others did this too) was to kind of back away, going “ooookkkaay”. Kind of like another SNL character, Girl You Wish You Hadn’t Started Talking To At a Party (or whatever her name is). Guess that BRCA thing was just incidental in this person’s mind. Weird. But the catch is, some health or medical professionals get into that rut too, and I get a little worried that by focusing on “The One Thing”, other factors are getting missed. It seemed as the day after Gandolfini died wore on, I heard progressively less about his past substance abuse, and eventually only heard about the weight factor.

created by bogswallop
created by bogswallop

Back to the guy who inspired this post: Gandolfini. I never again want to talk about him (or any artist), in combination with heart disease, health, risk factors, or drug abuse or especially weight. I want, from this moment on, to always and only, talk about him like this: great actor, great contributions to art, to the American cultural landscape, to pop culture, his portrayal of that most American of icons, The Mobster. I can’t learn any lessons from his death because it did not teach me anything I did not know (read this in Frankenstein’s voice: “overweight—bad, smoke—bad, exercise—good”). Just this once, can we honor an artist without making an example of the life outside of art? Do we always have to learn an important health lesson?

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.