There are 13 more days until you disappear and all your pink trappings will be removed from grocery store shelves and replaced with the amber hues of Thanksgiving. And some of us will forget to be aware of breast cancer – until next year, when you do it all again. I’m weary of you and your pink ribbon culture. I’m weary of your unrelenting message that the answer to the breast cancer epidemic which will kill over 40,000 women in the United States again this year – is to get a mammogram, feel the boobies/tatas/hooters, and raise more money “for the cure.”
I’m tired of your mythology. I’m tired of friends dying. I’m tired of waking up every day and wondering if today is the day that a twinge in my hip or a headache might mean that the bastard has spread to my bones or my brain. I’m tired of being called a survivor and brave because (as John Diamond reminded us) cowards get cancer too. And I am a coward. That I know.
But you don’t want to hear any of that, do you? Instead you want me to feel good about it. Triumphant. You want me to strut around with confidence, bearing the mantle of survivorship with good cheer. Well, I’m sorry. I just can’t do it. I’m sick of you. And people are sick of me bitching about you every year. They tell me I’m bitter and to stop whining.
Since being diagnosed with breast cancer, I’ve been told that I must have brought it on myself because of my lifestyle, working in jobs that were too stressful or not working out enough or not eating organic vegetables or drinking red wine or not drinking enough red wine or smoking once upon a time. I’ve been told that I’m lucky, that I got the “good” cancer, that my cancer could be so much worse, as bad as the cancer visited upon someone’s mother/father/uncle/cousin twice removed and that I should be thankful. I’ve been told I don’t look sick so it can’t be that bad, and after all I still have my hair, don’t I? (or is it a wig?)
I’ve also been told nothing – not a word – by people who used to be my friends but scattered following my diagnosis. I’ve been told to lighten up, to put my big girl panties on, and to fight like a girl. I’ve been lambasted because I said no to chemotherapy -“That’s so selfish. Aren’t you thinking about your daughter?” – and I’ve been told I was stupid because I didn’t have the other breast AND my ovaries removed because at 49 apparently, I didn’t need them anymore. I’ve been told I’m REALLY lucky to get a free boob job. I’ve been told that I’m too sensitive about October and the pink ribbons and all the racing towards a cure. I’ve been told that early detection is the best protection, so obediently, I went for those mammograms – four of ’em – all of which missed the damn cancer that had been growing, concealed, within the dense tissue of my right breast. I’ve been told that awareness saves breasts and lives – if I’d just lighten up and feel the boobies.
But I’ve also been told that I am loved. And, I know love. To those people who love me and who have been in my corner through all the scans and the surgeries, the blood tests and the biopsies, the treatments and their side effects, and the waiting – the horrible waiting – and the people like my daughter who will stop to ask the cashier at SafeWay if she knows where the donations go, thank you.
I know you know I’m scared that like one-third of all breast cancers, mine will metastasize. I know you know that it is metastatic breast cancer that kills women like me. I know you’re aware. You are plenty aware. You see, we’re ALL aware, October, and it just isn’t enough. Time for a change. And that’s why I’m asking everyone who reads this page to contribute to my fundraiser to support the ongoing advocacy of Breast Cancer Action, the watchdog for the breast cancer movement. This organization is free from conflict of interest and committed to transparency: they will not take any money from ANY company that profits from or contributes to cancer – and they always show us where our money goes. A full 74.2% of every dollar is spent directly on programs, and fundraisers like mine helps keep them independent.
Even the phrase “pinkwashing” was coined by Breast Cancer Action, calling out those corporations that continue to profit from my disease as The Daily Beast’s Erin Gloria Ryan recently reported: “companies like Estee Lauder, which markets breast-cancer awareness-branded products that contain chemicals like parabens, which may cause cancer or interfere with cancer treatment; citrus growers, who, while marketing pink breast-cancer-awareness products, irrigated their fruit with oil company wastewater; a fracking company—fracking has been linked to cancer-causing carcinogens—that marketed a breast-cancer awareness fracking drillbit (really. This really happened);and Kentucky Fried Chicken’s pink breast- cancer awareness fried chicken bucket (see the research on a high-fat diet and increased cancer risk here).”
And while Breast Cancer’s Actions have certainly made a dent with their annual campaigns to “think before you pink,” they need our help to continue to apply pressure.
It’s not enough to be aware when people are continuing to die, when breast-cancer rates continue to rise, and when women of color face worse outcomes than their white counterparts. Or when we know that breast cancer will kill about 500 men this year. You see, October, the fight against breast cancer is not just about awareness, it’s not just about public health, it’s about social justice too.
So if you are reading this, maybe you’re willing to take one step further and donate what you can to support Breast Cancer Action’s continued good work. Visit my Fundraising page to learn more and contribute.