What Does “Breast Cancer Awareness Month” meant to you?

Before we all know it, Pinktober is going to rear its ugly head once again, and everywhere you look will be pink ribbons – from the grocery store, to chain restaurants and maybe a part of your downtown running path is now covered in bras (that one made me want to set the bras on fire) – all for the sake of “awareness.”  I know I have gone on and on and on about breast cancer awareness month.  I think pretty much everyone who knows me or who is familiar with Get Up Swinging knows how I feel about this month.

Well, I wanted to ask other folks with cancer, any cancer, the question: “What does Breast Cancer Awareness Month mean to you?”  The responses mostly came from other women who have had breast cancer since that’s the disease I have, but there responses from others who have undergone treatment for cancers other than breast.

 

Here are responses from those who have metastatic breast cancer:

“Even before I was diagnosed with breast cancer I loathed October. No matter where you go there is a sea of pink, ribbons, t-shirts, key chains, etc. What started out as something good had morphed into a retail/marketing machine that line the pockets of those ‘bringing awareness.’  Now after living with Stage 4 breast cancer for the past year, I understand how serious this is. There isn’t a female on this planet that isn’t ‘aware’ – that doesn’t ‘feel their boobies.’  Every person diagnosed with breast cancer COULD develop metastatic disease. Early detection does not guarantee safety.  What will save more of the 40,000 people that will die from breast cancer each year is research.  And that means money for research – not awareness.  What Komen and the others give to research is sickening. Nancy Brinkman should be ashamed of what her memorial to her precious Suzy has become. More lives could benefit from research and the clinical trials that are born of research. Until we can change the perspective of the public at large this will be an ongoing disconnect and more people will die – like me.”

“Nothing,” and then: “I have metastatic breast cancer.  When I die, I will not have lost at all.  Another reason October grosses me out: battle metaphors.”

“I think my stance has only grown stronger since being diagnosed stage 4 in the last 12 months.  I have a really hard time going grocery shopping.  I’m already getting the stupid emails about playing secret games.  How does that raise awareness?  I’m trying to come up with something for [metastatic breast cancer] similar to the ALS Ice Bucket Challenge.  We’ve just got to come up with something good.”  The same friend then said, “I still really just want to punch that Komen lady in the throat.  Do you think that will bring more awareness?  I bet it’d do more for mets than a pink frying pan.  (I’m totally kidding…. Sort of.)”

Here are the responses from those who had breast cancer, aka the people who we’re supposed to celebrate during this month (allegedly):

“Hell.”

“Enough awareness already.  Time to focus on research for those with mets.  I used to like pink.  Sometimes now I struggle with wearing it.  Oh, and it makes me want to throat punch people.”  It will shock y’all that wasn’t something I said, but damn, it’s something I truly feel.

“I cringe every October now.  SGK has created an atmosphere wherein people actually resent breast cancer charities – even the good ones. It makes me very sad.  I used to like pink, too.  Now it just makes my butt pucker.”

“Absolutely nothing.  It’s a disgusting marketing ploy.”

“It means companies profit off of a disease (mostly).”

“That I’m going to flip the fuck out the next time someone posts something about not wearing underwear or using their boobs to get out of a speeding ticket because they are playing a ‘fun’ breast cancer awareness game.   And October, the month that used to be my favorite, is now the month that I won’t be able to, even for a minute, forget I had breast cancer.”

“Well, it means breast cancer awareness for everyone else, but for me, that’s every month every day.”

 “Breast cancer is sadly something we’ve all heard of.  We’re all aware of it each October because it’s shoved down our throats.  I’m all for education of things like triple negative or IBC or mets, etc., but buying a pink frying pan isn’t going to do that either.  By the way, I don’t think that pink is a vile color; I do love it, but I hate all the negative bullshit that it stands for now.  Hopping off my soapbox now….”

“I guess the month is more personal to me.  I got THAT phone call from the breast surgeon on October 1, 2012 telling me my biopsy was malignant.  ‘Sorry for the phone call, but we need to act on this PDQ.’  So, two weeks later, I’m in surgery for seven hours, having a double mastectomy and tram flap.  I’m sick of pink.  I’m sick of Tamoxifen.   I hate cancer.”

“Most people are unaware or ignorant to anything until it happens to them or someone they love.  I feel like I’ve been under the breast cancer cloud since I was about 13 and my aunt, who was like my second mother, was diagnosed and had her mastectomy.  I don’t know if her struggle was a warning to me, so I’d catch mine earlier because she ignored hers for a while before she got checked. . . .  I try to see everything for the benefit it could or does have, but the little awareness ‘games’ piss me off because people think they are doing something when they really are not.  If the month gets more women to do self-exams, check up on something suspicious, get a physical, or donate time or money who would’ve never thought to do before, I pray that is the good that comes out of it.  It’s kind of a hard month, but so is every day once your life changes that little bomb of a seed has been planted in your mind and body.”

“I definitely feel the attention has to shift from awareness to cure.  I think we all are aware now. However, maybe any attention to the disease is good attention?   I will tell you though it pisses me right off when I see crap like … For breast cancer awareness I will be brave and post a picture of myself on Facebook without makeup…. Puuuuleeeze. Personally, those who post those self-serving pictures (oh girl, you’re gorgeous without make up, wish I could look half as great) did abso’f ing’lutely nothing to help my treatment go more smoothly – physically or mentally.  If they want to see the face of bravery, I suggest they take a field trip to the waiting room of the women’s cancer center and look at the beautiful faces there with their heads covered with baseball caps, scarves, wigs or nothing.  I encourage them to look into the eyes of those women, which might be brimming with tears because they were just given the news they did not want to hear, or tears of relief because they did.  Regardless of age, socioeconomic status, ethnicity or any other defining factor.  These women and their families and support systems have hearts full of hope.  So my hope is that October brings meaningful advances in the cure and prevention of breast cancer.”

“I don’t have a lot of attachment to it.  I went to a nice breast cancer fundraiser last night with all the pink bells and whistles for the cancer center that saved my life and had a good time and made some donations.  But, there was a lot of ‘stuff’ there, that had I been in the throes of treatment or diagnosis, would have absolutely pushed me over the edge.  So, I have awareness of the real deal!  I do feel that I’ve helped shape some fundraising events so that they don’t push those buttons for others by creating awareness myself.  I’m thinking it is a good month for me to keep being true about how it all is.  At the same time, I can stay positive about the whole thing because my doctors told me the money that is raised truly helps patients and research and I believe that.  Plus my mom with Alzheimer’s only likes to wear hot pink…which is pretty weird since my sister and I are both breast cancer survivors. She doesn’t consciously understand the significance. I think I will stay away from the pink cupcakes though; and I will definitely be remembering those we have lost who no longer can pink partake. . . .  I admit, I did buy my mom a pair of breast cancer awareness sneakers because they were hot pink.  I think like a penny supposedly goes to help somebody.  *snark*”

Responses from people who had cancer, but not breast cancer:

“Well, I don’t have that type of cancer, but to me, it means I expect to see women without cancer showing off their boobs and bras and women with cancer not feeling great about being flooded with images of boobs.”  When I read this response, I actually shouted “YES!” loudly at my desk.

“Blegh.  What about the other kinds of cancer?  Pinkification stinks.”  I agree.

“I wish oral CA had the same publicity as breast CA.”

If those with breast cancer are expressing disgust and resentment at the very month that is supposed to celebrate them, then changes need to be made.  We need to stop trivializing a deadly disease by wrapping it up in a pretty pink bow.  Men also get breast cancer, and I couldn’t even fathom how horrifying Pinktober would be to a man with breast cancer.  If a friend sends you an invite for the stupid annual Facebook game so many people mentioned above, respond with links from those with cancer as to why these games are offensive.

Most of the time people mean well, but I have come across so many people who want to use Pinktober as an excuse to have a girls’ night out and drink (dumb) or just say boobies or knockers or hooters.   We need to take breast cancer seriously, even if deals with a body part that can reduce grown adults into immature 10-year olds.

I asked Lori Marx-Rubiner, the president of Metavivor, how can anyone help a loved one going through breast cancer treatment, and here is her response:

What can people do?

Give of themselves – run errands: dry cleaner, market, carpool

Make a meal – check first abt dietary restrictions

Keep patient company during treatment

Come by with a good movie

Check in 6-7 days after treatment, when the attention has died down

 

If you don’t have a specific person in mind-

Volunteer at a treatment or support center

Organize a local fundraiser

Sign up for Army of Women

 

No time?

Send a gift card – Jamba Juice, bookstore, Netflix subscription, local restaurant that delivers

Donate to research or directly

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Robin Williams

Out of all celebrity deaths, Robin Williams’ suicide seems to be hitting me the hardest.  When I was a little kid, I was obsessed with “Aladdin.”  I played that cassette repeatedly while I was in my family’s basement, trying to keep to myself.  Despite the inability to carry a tune, I knew every word and inflection of this soundtrack by heart.   I especially loved the song “Friend Like Me,” and as a weirdo kid, it felt like the genie/Robin Williams was my friend.

If a Robin Williams movie came out, I always made an effort to watch it, even if he wasn’t starring in the movie.  Even if role was small, like in “Nine Months,” he made it larger than life.  I watched “Mork & Mindy” when it was on Nick at Night.  I loved “Hook,” “Jumanji,” “Good Will Hunting,” and of course, “Mrs. Doubtfire.”

He made me laugh.  If it was in the movies or in a television interview that he overtook with his manic wit, Robin Williams made me laugh and feel better.

During my first ever trip to New York City, I spent an entire day just walking around and taking pictures.  I walked from the Upper West Side to the entrance of Central Park.  I stopped to watch a group of performers, and out of the corner of my eye – I saw Robin Williams.  He was walking quickly through the crowd, and he dashed across the street.  I wanted to say something to him but I was so starstruck.  I just saw my childhood hero!  Since I couldn’t say anything, I took a picture instead.

Robin Williams in New York 2008.

Robin Williams in New York 2008.

When I heard about his death, I immediately felt sad, but when I read that it was an apparent suicide after he had been struggling with depression, I felt devastated.

Depression hit me after cancer treatment, which caught me by surprise.  I had never experienced depression before.  For a long time, I kept thinking I could will myself out of the despair I felt.  I couldn’t understand why I felt the way I did after treatment, like I just went through hell, so why couldn’t I escape it?

My life felt hopeless, and I believed I was resigned to a life of illness and pain, that all I was Cancer Girl, and this was how I was going to die.  I was my mother’s daughter, after all.  For awhile, I was obsessed with the thought of my cancer coming back either locally or distant (i.e., stage 4).  I was living in the “what ifs” and “what just happened,” and the present was just bleak.  My relationships suffered.  Even my beloved pooch couldn’t grab me out of the complete despair I felt, though bless her heart, she tried.

After the horrible thoughts that the world would be better without me consumed me daily, in late 2012, I reached out for help.  It took me way too long to realize that asking for help wasn’t a sign of weakness.  It was an act of someone who recognized that her will wasn’t enough.  I continually seek help for depression, and sometimes I am ashamed to admit that.  There’s a stigma to mental illness.  I’ve been managing my depression with therapy and running.  It’s not just a phase or something I can just snap out of.  It’s not a weakness in my character – it’s a weakness in my brain chemistry.  And it’s okay that I see someone to help me cope with depression.

Robin Williams’ suicide just hit me right smack dab in the feels.  I’ve already come across the blog posts saying that he was a coward or selfish, and it just breaks my heart.  He was a sick man who struggled with addiction and depression his whole life.  Nobody will know his frame of mind when he committed this act, but I’m pretty sure we can all agree he must have been sinking in a despair that nobody could understand or withstand.  When someone dies of cancer, we call them brave.  When someone dies as the result of mental illness, they are called weak or cowardly.

If you have never struggled with mental illness in any of its forms, I envy you.  Let me just say – don’t be fooled into thinking that since you’re mentally “sound,” you’re an expert on mental health.  You’re not.

You’re lucky.