I belong to the disease of the month club

I belong to the disease of the month club

We’re as far away from October on the calendar as we can possibly get. Its rosy glow spreads impossibly far, making hundreds of thousands of people aware of breast cancer.

Breast cancer awareness and pink ribbons sell everything from tennis balls to lipstick. Clinique, Ralph Lauren, Avon, Yoplait, KFC, even Smith and Wesson use pink to, ostensibly, support breast cancer awareness, while deeply identifying their products with everyone’s favorite disease.

Awareness campaigns may or may not actually help solve problems. Breast cancer five-year survival rates have increased, from 75.2% in 1975 to 90.5% in 2005. But the numbers are tricky. We certainly are diagnosing cancers at earlier stages, which may explain why people are living longer from time of diagnosis.

We are also pouring money into research, 602.7 million in 2012. In contrast, for bladder cancer we spent 23.4 million, a pittance when you consider that in 2012, breast was the fourth and bladder the seventh most common cancer in the United States. (Stats are from the National Cancer Institute.)

But the success of awareness programs doesn’t boil down to cures or dollars spent, at least not for me. Awareness has to do with how we live with one another, and this is why I belong to the disease of the month club.

Someone on Facebook the other day complained that “there’s a month for everything.” If you don’t believe her, check out this list on Wikipedia.

 "Autism Awareness," Jason Eppink License: https://creativecommons.org/licenses/by/2.0/

Maybe it feels like we’re all scrambling for your attention. Well, we are.

When you go to the grocery store and stand in line you mostly see “normal” people. Some of them irritate you because they take so long to put their money into their wallets or to move their carts out of your way. As you pass these people in the produce section, bagging their lettuce, you can’t possibly see behind the facade.

If you had seen me at a grocery store in October 2012,  you would have seen a normal woman, tired, worried, and normal looking. But I felt like a ghost. I had gotten a peek behind the curtain and couldn’t stop seeing my own mortality. I was consumed by that sight. I would find myself in the produce aisle staring at mushrooms and thinking about tumors.

Truth is we aren’t all normal, and when we assume that everyone is like us, we miss things.

The ways we’re different are very, very important.

Differences may explain why a six year old is screaming in the middle of the grocery story. Or why the woman who walks with great agility is parking in the handicapped parking spot. Or why the man behind us won’t make eye contact and stands uncomfortably close.

We don’t know the struggles of our neighbors. The man who chain smokes just outside the door at work but who hasn’t had a drink for six years. The admin assistant who can barely walk some days because of MS. The student who is always late to class because he’s taking his mom to chemo.3406577505

Awareness campaigns provide us an opportunity to learn about each other. If we listen we can learn about our differences. As we learn, we can become compassionate and more patient.

I belong to the disease of the month club because it gives me perspective on my life. I make better choices about how to spend my time and my money. I’ve learned to hear pain in a student’s voice and to suspend judgment when I’m confused by someone’s behavior.

We’re not all the same, and we can’t know everyone’s story. We’re different, and we need to acknowledge those differences. The disease of the month club can help. Below, I’ve listed just a few causes, the time they’re commemorated and a ChicagoNow blog that offers us all some needed awareness.

March

Colon Cancer God is My Running Partner

April

Alcohol Awareness I Want A Dumpster Baby, Moms Who Drink and Swear

Stress Awareness StressMart

Parkinson’s Disease I’ve Got the Hippy Shakes

May

Skin Cancer Your Tan May Be Killing You and  Scribbling of Thoughts

Military Awareness Uncommon Sense

June

Alzheimer’s Association Longest Day No Bags to Check

September

Childhood Cancer  Mary Tyler Mom

Ovarian Cancer Quilting! Sewing! Creating!

Week of Valentine’s

Congenital Heart Defect Week High Gloss and Sauce

In the comments below, please tell me about what you wish others were more aware of. Link to a blog or site, too.
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