It’s Breast Cancer Awareness month. Pink ribbons will soon take over every available visual space. I have two responses to this. 1. There’s nothing pink about breast cancer. 2. I’m much too aware of breast cancer already.
Breast cancer ribbons, the ubiquitous pink ones, overwhelm the cancer landscape. There is a bizarre and very uncomfortable tension that exists between breast cancer and the less well known and underfunded cancers.
Treatments for bladder cancer haven’t changed for more than 25 years. Very little research is being done, there are few clinical trials, and we know only a little bit more about this cancer now than we did a decade ago. Lack of money is one reason for the deficit.
Don’t misread this, please. I will never play the “my cancer is more important than yours” game. It’s a losing game for everyone. So many people are suffering, and it makes very little difference what kind of cancer is causing it.
All I’m saying is that pink ribbons put a spin on breast cancer that makes me squirm. Breast cancer isn’t pink. Pink is what little girls are made of. It’s sweet. Nurturing. Young. Pure. Breast cancer isn’t any of these things.
Honestly, I’m so aware of breast cancer that I’ve cried myself to sleep a couple of times the past few weeks.
My friend Betsy, age 41, mother of a 7 year old, died of breast cancer. She went in for a mammogram, got an all clear, and then felt a lump about 60 days later. It was Stage 4. She exploited every treatment available. Nothing helped. She suffered for two years.
A friend, I’ll call her Valerie, had breast cancer about 10 years ago. She was “cured,” until she wasn’t. It recurred and metastasized. She is in hospice. She has five kids.
Here are the names of the people I know who have breast cancer, are in remission, or died because of it: Betsy, Valerie, Meridith, Linda, Stephanie, Chris, Danielle, Teppi. I know I’ve forgotten to include some folks, and I’ll remember after this blog is posted.
Still, eight. Eight women.
They have lost their breasts and their hair. Some have had or are scheduled for complete hysterectomies. Like Angelina Jolie, some have the BRCA gene mutation.
They’ve had ports inserted under their skin to make chemo easier to infuse.They’ve had every test you can imagine. Some of those tests hurt. Some are really invasive.
Some of them will deal with longterm side effects from chemo: lymphedema, chemo brain, neuropathy, hearing loss.
All of them will deal with the psychological scars, the fear and anxiety and stress of having cancer.
Suffice it to say that these women have suffered, are suffering, will suffer. This isn’t the stuff of pink gauze and princesses and teddy bears.
So, yeah. I’m aware of breast cancer. I don’t need a pink ribbon to remind me because I’m way too damned aware.
I want you to do two things, just two.
First, read this post on Mary Tyler Mom’s blog about awareness and why it matters. During September, which was Childhood Cancer Awareness month, MTM featured a story each day about a child with cancer.
Second, read Teppi Jacobsen’s blog, When You Put It That Way. She has asked women who have been tested for the BRCA gene to tell their stories. You’ll learn about this gene and about the process that women go through when they’re being tested.
What you do about it is up to you. But remember, awareness is meaningless if you don’t do something.
As for me, I’m going to text my friend to see how she’s doing. If she’s up to it, I’ll visit her, knowing that the time for visiting is running out. I don’t want to use up the energy she has left when she needs it for her husband and kids and mother and sibs.
Cancer is breaking my heart.
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