Short-Term Memory

TV Re-Runs: Part I – “SNL’s Mr. Short-Term Memory”

I’ve got cancer controversy fatigue.

It is only the beginning of March and already 2014 has had too many breast cancer controversies. The bizarre Keller attacks provided an interesting silver lining in that so many people defended the right of cancer patients to tell whatever blunt truth each deems appropriate to their experience, not just the media approved story, without getting hassled for it. I’d hoped the infuriating Pancreatic Cancer Action PSA controversy would provide another silver lining in the form of a general realization that 1) Pink has deceptively sold breast cancer as a desirable disease 2) patients with other cancers are so tired of the attention given to breast cancer that push back has begun. I still think push back will continue, see here and here, but the jury is still out on that one.

Are the voices challenging Pink Rule getting louder? Maybe, but it is business as usual according to the dominant voices in the breast cancer conversation. The most recent two controversies (is it just 2, did I miss something? I’ve been a little otherwise engaged lately)—the here-we-go-again-arguing-about-the-usefulness-of-mammography fuss, and is-it-October-again-already return of Pink commercialization—are just old and tiresome. They seem like TV re-runs. Or, more accurately, remind me I watch too many TV re-runs.

I’ll get to that mammography thing later, some other post maybe. Right now I just want to rant about the latest Pink hi-jinks.

Remember the iconic recurring sketch on Tom Hanks-hosted Saturday Night Live episodes, back in the late 80s-early 90s, “Mr. Short-Term Memory”? The little song at the start of the sketch said something like: he got hit on the head by a fruit, he shouldn’t have sat under that tree, he’s Mr. Short-Term Memory, he’ll drive you crazy when you talk to him but he’ll never know it, because he cannot remember anything. Hanks as the titular character would repeatedly forget why he was on the game show or why he was in the hospital, right in the middle of a conversation. The other characters had to repeatedly explain the situation to him, resulting in everyone having the same conversation about 5 times, to the exasperation and irritation of the other characters. Meanwhile, Hanks cluelessly acted like each time he heard the repeated story, it was brand new information! I loved that sketch, I still do. The sketch is funny, which is good since SNL is a comedy show.

Komen, Kohl’s, and any other Pink sellers acting like breast cancer is some kind of undiscussed elephant in the room reminds me of Hanks in those old Mr. Short-Term Memory sketches, but it ain’t funny. I picture all the marketing flunkies at both Komen and Kohl’s as Hanks/ Mr. Short-Term Memory, shouting “all these women are getting breast cancer?! Oh my gosh, we need to let people know about this!” It’s as if Komen is inexplicably ignorant of its own history and efforts. This is mind-boggling , until I consider the alternative. Maybe the flunkies think we, the shopping public, are plagued with short-term memory, and we forgot that barrage that just happened a few months ago. Impossible! Pink ribboned items hang around in my local stores up until at least the holidays, or after!

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What the hell is talked about so much that folks with other cancers applaud that recent pancreatic cancer PSA, because they are so sick of pink ribbons being waved in faces (yes, that is an actual comment, scroll down to Martin, here)? As recently as a few months ago I was complaining about how so many folks—in real life, in comments sections, on social media—like to point out that 30 years ago breast cancer was only whispered about, and now…isn’t it great? Komen and other Pinked out groups have made it so we can talk openly about it! As if this is some kind of triumph! As if being able to talk openly about it was the end goal all along. Sometimes when people claim that all the talk of breast cancer shows how effective Pink has been, I have to shove my hands in my jeans pockets so I don’t grab their shoulders and shake them and scream: “don’t you get it?! I don’t want to TALK about breast cancer—I want to makes sure it doesn’t come back in me—I want to have never had it at all!”

But I did get breast cancer, and I’m stuck repeating myself (I’ve noticed I keep re-posting old posts lately, geez, I guess I’m not just watching re-runs on TV, I’m putting out my own re-runs!). I feel stuck listening to the same conversation over and over, because the biggest Pink gorillas cannot seem to move forward. Komen & Kohl’s awful Pink website page filled with conversations starters are just the same old warmed over topics that’ve been discussed to death. No mention of Stage IV, the misguided idea that cancer is beatable with no mention that it is so likely to recur (as Stage IV, again ignoring that reality, duh), and of course, other pretty pink-i-tudes, like the notion cancer is a gift, something desirable (gee, no wonder those silly pancreatic cancer patients got confused—YES I’M BEING SARCASTIC). There is even the chance to win $50 from Kohl’s by sharing a personal breast cancer story. Even this idea is old news—it is just another version of the “only the positive stories get to the podium” phenomena so ever present in cancer tales. (Because a Cancer Curmudgeon-y story is unlikely to get a podium or prize.)This really burns me up, but I have to submerge that anger for some other day.

Using these proffered conversation starters that have already been discussed into the ground will just make the conversation about breast cancer look as silly as Mr. Short-Term Memory’s rants. Coming so soon after the pancreatic cancer PSA fuss, a marketing campaign that encourages folks to talk about breast cancer like such a conversation has never happened before is beyond tone deaf. I realize that this campaign is the result of too much time and money to simply cancel it after the pancreatic cancer PSA, but if Komen and Pink pushers had been paying attention to the growing grumbles in social media and even the mainstream (I guess that Orenstein article was just TL;DR for those involved with this campaign), maybe they’d have thought twice before developing this travesty.

So many have already eloquently spoken about the Komen & Kohl’s theft of elephant concept from METAvivor there is nothing to add. I was outraged at first, but now I step back and find I’m not even all that surprised. Pink pushers are so unable to move forward in the conversation regarding breast cancer, of course they are out of new ideas. Realizing this, I think to myself, is it any wonder they had to steal? Last I checked, METAvivor is still disappointed that K&K are Unwilling to Do the Right Thing. Too many resources stand to be wasted pursing legal action, but given Komen’s litigious history, perhaps “lawsuit” is the only language they speak?

I’m not suggesting that all the #talkpink turn into #STFU. It’s just that breast cancer is still such a huge problem that has not decreased in proportion with nearly 30 years of “talk”. Nothing has improved in terms of death, of mets patients. Doesn’t that seem like a conversational shift is needed? I’m not as specifically anti-Komen as some folks. Rather, I tend to get so incensed by nearly all Pink/rah-rah entities, or hell, ribbon and disease-of-the-month culture as a whole, that I sometimes cannot discern the individual pieces of the puzzle. Then my knee-jerk reaction is: “it all sucks!” But Komen really is The Worst this time round.

I think Kohl’s reached their goal—sorry, I cannot linger on that site enough to even understand how the shopping/donation process works, I was just too grossed out. I have not shopped there in years—as a pet/house sitter, I simply do not require their goods. So it was easy for me to boycott, and because it was so easy, I feel strange or hypocritical suggesting others boycott. I’d like to NEVER buy anything with a ribbon on it but it is damn near impossible in the case of some foods I like. I wonder if the backlash directed at K&K is enough to alter the next big Pink selling bonanza surely in the works? How many serious missteps like this will it take to end Komen? Part of me wishes someone would take them aside and clue them in, and that they’ll listen—simply because it is so hard to watch Komen embarrass themselves even though I cannot stand them. But the imp in me says, “hey, give ‘em enough rope….”

I wish I knew a solution to the over-abundance of Pink and all that comes with it. I only know I can no longer watch all these Pink re-enactments of the “Mr. Short-Term Memory” sketch.

Does Breast Cancer Owe It to Other Cancers?

A/N This is a potentially offensive post, please follow my train of thought to the end, I am trying NOT to be a jackass, and failing. This is just how I am seeing this issue at the moment. I beg you to change my mind in the comments.

Here is yet another criticism of that 2020 deadline, Can Setting a Deadline Put an End to Breast Cancer?  by Geoffrey Kabat. I’ve already blogged about this issue, when that editorial in “Nature” appeared few months ago.

Honestly, I have a few problems with the 2020 Deadline myself, even more now than when I originally wrote about it. My biggest problem is one of the main issues confronted by these editorials: that discovery cannot be forced; it will not answer to a deadline. I agree with this, and even the idea that setting a goal that has a real chance of NOT being met is a bit risky.

But what irks me is in both of these pieces, there is this suggestion, no, AN EXPECTATION that breast cancer activists, advocates, organizations should focus on other cancer problems, not just breast cancer. These activists/organizations have done such a good job of creating awareness (really?), the energy should be applied to other cancers, so the thinking, I assume, must go.

Is it really the best solution for National Breast Cancer Coalition, or any other organization DEDICATED to breast cancer, to handle other cancer problems? I mean, National BREAST CANCER Coalition, see? BREAST CANCER right there in the name. There probably are already some organizations taking on other cancers in baby steps now; goodness knows the damn ribbons for all other diseases exist (stop reducing diseases to ribbons!), and I suspect these groups have adopted some tactics of breast cancer awareness. If so, let us hope these groups learn from pink marketing’s mistakes before they go too far. The deadline has a focus of ending breast cancer, misguided or not, but that is because the whole point of the organization is…wait for it…BREAST CANCER. That is why it formed. Its objective, according to an old address by its president Frances Visco, is to end breast cancer and cease to exist because it would no longer be needed. Why would anyone think it should do other work—to self-perpetuate?

It’s just that the logic demanding breast cancer organizations (which were formed for WHAT disease, again? yes I’m being sarcastic) work on other cancers is flat out faulty. Go with my flow here for a second. This author points out lung cancer kills more women, and says a breast cancer organization should do something about it. This implies breast cancer is just a women’s problem, breast cancer organizations are just women’s organizations. Well, no, men get it too, and a breast cancer organization is about all breast cancer no matter what the sex of the body it’s in; and the breast cancer organization is not focusing on all health issues suffered by women (because it was formed to focus on what disease again? Say it all together now: BREAST CANCER). Yes the opposite is true; breast cancer can be under the umbrella of women’s health. So when he says “The exclusive focus on breast cancer skews one’s perspective by blotting out other opportunities,” does he really mean we should get rid of some breast cancer organizations, and pay less attention to breast cancer because other diseases kill more women, and are therefore more important? Because that is kind of what it sounds like, and that would be incredibly stupid.

Also, I am a little confused and bewildered at the author’s suggestions that breast cancer organizations work specifically on lung and cervical cancers. According to the information in his editorial, the causes of these two are known and preventions available. The reason the 2020 project is in place is to find the cause(s) and some preventions for breast cancer. That would mean, work on breast cancer is far behind the work on these other two cancers. So, is he suggesting breast cancer organizations work on these projects because, what, it’s easier? And what, just say to future breast cancer patients, sorry you’re SOL, it was easier to sell what we already had or knew, because we did not want to invest in even trying to make a discovery?

Perhaps the bug up everyone’s ass is jealousy because of all the attention breast cancer has amassed over the past few decades. I KNOW lung cancer AND heart disease kills more women. Not this article, but plenty of other articles about heart disease always seem to start off with a sentence about how heart disease kills more women than breast cancer, as if the authors are personally offended that breast cancer gets more attention than their cause (read this fabulous rant by a blogger on Tumblr). I know everyone has their own agenda, their own pet cause because it is something that impacts them, and each individual is entitled to their viewpoint and their cause. But picking on breast cancer is just getting tiresome.

Breast cancer organizations are most likely run/staffed/founded by those with personal knowledge of it, which is why they work on it (duh, it is what they know best), rather than, say, heart disease. I blog about breast cancer because I had it. When I get heart disease, I’ll blog about that too. It is the nature of the beast. Should diseases that kill more people get more attention? Maybe, but how does that make those diseases more important, more devastating, than a rare disease to someone who has had loved ones die from said rare disease? Who the hell goes around saying “my disease is more important than your disease because it kills more people”? Breast cancer patients, imagine saying to your ovarian cancer friends “breast cancer is more important because more women have it?” How much of an asshole would you have to be to say that? But it seems OK to imply these other diseases are more important than breast cancer for the same reason. Breast cancer may be viewed as a big ol’ pink bully in disease world, but it is starting to be the one bullied. Apparently payback is a bitch.

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The blessing and the curse of pink marketing is that it made breast cancer seem like the most important and desirable cause in the world; getting a lot of money and research which resulted in treatments that saved lives, including my own, for which I am grateful. But the fact is, pink dollars didn’t stop breast cancer from happening to women, it didn’t even really slow it down, just stopped some of the dying. But not all of the dying. Breast cancer patients still get mets and die, no matter how much pink marketing pretends this doesn’t happen (remember, cancer patients don’t die, they lose their battle). In short, pink has not been a blinding success. So when advocates for other health causes complain about how much attention breast cancer gets, I suggest taking a long hard look at that, and understand there is a dirty underside to pink that needs exposure. And there are plenty of bloggers exposing it, it wouldn’t be hard to learn the truth.

Back to the question at hand, do breast cancer organizations owe it to other disease problems? I’m certainly not suggesting here that breast cancer groups should just turn up their noses and say “not my problem” about other cancers. There are more breast cancer survivors because incidence has not decreased like the death rate. I may feel a personal obligation to advocating, yelling, on behalf of those causes, but I don’t think an organization devoted to a certain focus should split that focus; that is unfair to the people the organization set out to serve. It is difficult to say which is the more compassionate choice here, if there is one. And yes I do realize that new organizations for unrepresented causes/diseases cannot just be created with the snap of fingers. I don’t have the answer; I’m only asking the question. It will take many minds to come up with the solution.