Yes, I know that Pinktober ended yesterday. I am well aware that it is November and the holidays will soon be upon us. But I am asking for one more day to think about cancer. Of course when the general population thinks about cancer, what comes to mind but nice, pink, friendly cancer? Images of football players in their hot pink accessories, pink soup cans, pink chip bags, pink energy drinks, and that everywhere-you-look pink ribbon. As much as I support breast cancer, I am so sick of the branding. People will spend more at the grocery store to “support” breast cancer awareness, but a lot of these companies are just flat out taking the profit, capping their donations or donating to organizations that don’t spend money on research. Take a second to look where your money is going.
Also, October is breast cancer AWARENESS month. Awareness, not research, not working towards finding cures. Just making you aware. This strikes me so much because as much as everyone is “aware” of breast cancer, I don’t feel like people know very much about it. If the campaign is to make people know it exists then high five. But I’m pretty sure I knew it existed without everything turning pink. Why don’t we take a little time to educate? I’ve certainly been educated and I hope that less people have to get their education the way I did. Pinktober spreads an image of breast cancer far and wide. That image is polished, attractive, cute even. I call it the fluffy pink cancer, the nice one, the “easy” one if you believe the hype. I’ve literally had a survivor come up to me and tell me they were “so glad” that she “only” got breast cancer. SERIOUSLY??????? Don’t get me wrong, I’m glad she had a good experience. I certainly don’t have that viewpoint. I realized quickly that I didn’t know shit about breast cancer until I got it. I think most people are in the same boat. We all know that it exists, but how many people even know the difference between chemo and radiation in the general population? I didn’t. Most people certainly don’t realize that there are at least 20 different flavors of breast cancer. Or that no two people have the same experience. Do your breast exams and look for lumps, but also look for irritation, swelling, anything out of the ordinary. Do your exams standing, laying down, leaning over or whatever other position you can think of because those tumors can hide.
Breast Cancer is curable! Everyone screens for early detection – it’s always okay if you find it early! That’s what we hear. And a lot of times that is true, but not all the time. Sometimes a tumor is found very early, but it has already spread. Sometimes it’s too late before you even began. And metastatic disease is shrouded in secrecy. Metastatic breast cancer patients are not paraded out in cute pink shirts for everyone to see. They are literally fighting for their lives and dealing with an overall survival rate of 22%. In private. And it’s ridiculous. They are the ones we should be talking about. Because it is scary. I’m willing to bet that every single one of us thinks about our disease going metastatic. I think about it every day.
And you get a free boob job! I can’t even tell you how many times I’ve heard someone say that their sister in law, coworker, friend, etc. had breast cancer and ended up with better boobs than she started with. Really? REALLY? I love my plastic surgeon. I appreciate the strides the community is making in reconstruction. And I even appreciate that I look mostly normal when you see me dressed. But I have a hard time believing that even one single person out there who has had reconstruction has a better rack than they started with. To start with we have ZERO feeling in our chest (unless you count pain). The nerves are removed along with the tissue during a mastectomy. So that is clearly an improvement, right? Secondly, we have huge scars across our chests. Again, I know the ladies are lining up for this super attractive upgrade. Thirdly, they are NEVER comfortable. I was actually looking forward to not having to wear a bra, but what they neglect to tell you is that the implants make it feel like you’ve had under wire permanently installed into your flesh. It is nothing like having natural breasts and taking a bra off, there is never relief. And lastly the nipples. Oh Lord, the nipples. Do you get them? Do you not? If you get them, how do you have them constructed? When? Where? Size? Profile? Color? It’s ridiculous. I’m going with the barbie boobs because seriously, if I can’t feel them and I don’t have to wear a bra what is the point in limiting my wardrobe choices?
And then there is the pink. What about ALL the other cancers? Why is is all about boobs? They have become the friendly, fun, acceptable kind of cancer. Why? Because everyone likes boobs? So somehow the cancer that destroys them is fun too? We can’t talk about testicles, colons or ovaries at the dinner table? Everyone can wear pink and talk about boobies but did you know men should be doing monthly testicular exams to look for lumps? I can’t believe how many people don’t even know they should be checking themselves. Tatas are cute. Balls not so much. Is that really the only difference? What about cancers we can’t see? Brain, lung, blood cancers, sarcomas – now we start getting into those long words people don’t understand. People shut down. Really as soon as the word cancer is uttered, people don’t know how to respond. This is the crux of the issue. There are more than 13 million at this moment living with cancer. That’s living with it, not out of treatment. 72,000 young adults are diagnosed every year. We all know someone who has cancer. We need to stop being afraid every time the word is uttered. We need to learn how to support our friends and family. And we need to be accepting of all cancers, whatever color they are. I am a big advocate of combining cancers in support. I have found more in common with other types of cancer than most people with breast cancer because of my treatment. We all have different experiences but the feelings involved are shockingly similar. There is no reason to alienate each other any more than we already have been.
So, what do I want people to do? How can we make it better? Keep learning, keep living and think of someone you know who is sick. It doesn’t have to be cancer. Just think about them and what you could do for them. And then do it. Don’t make them ask. If you don’t know someone or can’t do something for them, volunteer. Go spend some time helping people. If that doesn’t work, make a donation. Do some research and find a cause that is important to you. Make sure they spend it on good things. You don’t have to donate $50 or $100. They’ll take a buck, I promise. And it will be well spent.