Why I Am Still Anti-Komen

 

In early 2014, I wrote a blog post about why I was against breast cancer juggernaut Susan G. Komen Foundation.  It was shared, pinned, tweeted, discussed.  While the blog post was shared and liked by many, I don’t know the extent of the reputation hit I may have inflicted upon Nancy & Co.  I truly hope I inspired many to donate their money to much more honorable charities.

Well, now I am here to report on where Get Up Swinging and Susan G. Komen still stand.  To the surprise of no one, I am very much still anti-Komen, and I do not see that changing any time soon (please see below for a list of organizations doing amazing work).

I do not plan to re-hash all the same reasons I have already cited.  That’s the beauty of Nancy & Co: they keep giving us new and improved reasons to despise them and what they are doing to stand in the way of real change.  Today would have been my mother’s 69th birthday.  She died at the age of 40 from metastatic breast cancer.

Nancy, Nancy, Nancy

In a November 5, 2015 letter to the New York Times, my favorite former CEO was not happy about a very well-reasoned article, “A Growing Disenchantment With October ‘Pinkification,’”also published in the New York Times, which had valid points of views from those not wearing Pink Ribbon glasses.  Did Nancy listen to her critics and go, “Man, we’ve really divided the community for which we are trying to help”  Did she do any self-reflection and think, “I need to turn my focus back on the promise I made Susie.”

Of course not. Nancy didn’t address any of these real pressing issues currently happening in the breast cancer community.    Instead, all she did was regurgitate Komen’s history and ends her op-ed with the tone-deaf statement: “Pink Ribbons matter!”

The Pink Ribbon has enabled Komen to stage Races for the Cure with more than 1.5 million participants, partnerships in more than 150 countries and the engagement of more than 100,000 volunteers.

Oh boy, Nancy.  This is another example of why I think you are an evil woman.  You don’t get it, and you don’t want to get it.   What about those who are on their fifth line of treatment or waiting to get into a clinical trial in hopes for another six months with their families?  All you care about is your money-making Pink ribbon empire and your meaningless ribbon, aka the symbol of your life’s wealth.

There was one point in the article, and it’s an excellent point and one that you would think would make The Breast Cancer Charity go, “Holy shit, we seriously have to fix this!”

For all the awareness, they note, breast cancer incidence has been nearly flat and there still is no cure for women whose cancer has spread beyond the breast to other organs, like the liver or bones.

So, congratulations on patting yourself for your ability to rally others around a cause that has affected so many people.  But what about the 40,000 dying every year, a mortality rate that hasn’t changed in two decades?

No, Nancy.  Pink ribbons do not matter.  The lives of the 40,000+ dying of metastatic breast cancer each year in the U.S. matter.  Their partners, their children – the lives of all who have been diagnosed and will be diagnosed – they matter.  They should be the priority  and Nancy & Co. act as if these valid complaints are mere annoyances, like we are a bunch of Internet loud mouths.   The average lifespan of someone diagnosed with stage 4 is 33 months, and a pink ribbon isn’t going to change that.   We need change.  Now.

2015 marks the first time Komen lets you make a donation to metastatic breast cancer research

This past October marked the first time Komen allowed its donors to allocate where they want their money to go, and research toward metastatic breast cancer was one of the options.  It’s 2015, and this is the first time they have done this.  Why has it taken so long?  Could it be that the Komen push-back from all of us Internet loud mouths made some Komen folks realize that their priorities are jacked up?

However, this option only came about mid-October, and it was initially advertised as an option only available until the end of October!  What the deuce?  Did I miss the memo that metastatic breast cancer goes away when the calendar reaches November 1?

image2

I guess they listened to others also going, “Um, what?  This is only an option until October 31?” and changed their minds.  If you make a donation to Komen, you can still choose your donation to go toward metastatic breast cancer research.

Of course, though, this is still Komen, and they will always find a way to take your money, as pointed out by Bravery, Grace and Badassery.

image1 (1)

Does Komen really need that much financial help for its administrative costs that it still insists on taking funds for metastatic breast cancer research?  Get the hell out with this nonsense.

This organization has been claiming to be in this “for the cure” for the previous three decades.  Shouldn’t research for metastatic breast cancer be the primary focus so many, many years ago?  The only type of breast cancer that kills is metastatic breast cancer.

Komen likes misleading statistics

During Pinktober, the Susan G. Komen Foundation posted a pastel, feminine looking graphic with words and numbers together, which would lead you to believe that we are WINNING this fight on breast cancer:

image1

Ugh.   Ugh.  Ugh some more.

The five-year statistic is bull, it’s just plain bull.  It’s a misleading statement for a national organization to make, and all it does is make the general public LESS aware about breast cancer.  I’m sure all the Komen supporters saw that graphic on Facebook and said, “Yes, we are winning!  Well done, everyone.  Well done.”

Folks, if you’re reading this, please know that you can still have a breast cancer recurrence after five years.  The cancer doesn’t just peace out once it’s been five years since your initial diagnosis.  We have been led to believe that five years is this magical number and you showed cancer who is boss.  Realistically, though, you can recur 5, 10 or even 15 years after your initial diagnosis, so you can still die from breast cancer but be counted in this bogus statistic.  Theoretically, someone can have an early stage diagnosis in 2012 and have a metastatic recurrence in late 2015.  If they are still alive in 2017, then they are counted in that statistic, even if they die on January 1, 2018.     Do we tell them as they are dying, “Way to go, Jane, you made it past five years since your initial diagnosis.  You are a winner.”

Komen, for the love of Pete, quit sending misleading statements out to the general public that we are winning when the mortality rate hasn’t changed in the previous two decades.

Check out my friend, AnneMarie, crunching some numbers.

Capture

I couldn’t agree with this any more.

Frankly, I’m tired of breast cancer being portrayed as the feel good cancer and being held up as a shining example for early detection which works sometimes or even most times but not all the time and that part of the messaging is conveniently left of of every discussion about early detection.  It’s buzzkill.  It detracts from the message that mammograms are unilaterally helping save lives.  Mammograms are detecting cancer earlier and earlier thanks to constant improvements being made in imaging devices but early detection is just that.  Early Detection.  And early detection is not a guarantee.

Komen and its representatives treat metastatic breast cancer patients like a nuisance

Beth Caldwell, who writes over at the Cult of Perfect Motherhood, recently attended the San Antonio Breast Cancer symposium.  She wrote about her encounter with a member of Komen’s Scientific Advisory Board:

This week, Kelly Shanahan and I had a conversation with Powell Brown, a member of the scientific advisory board for Komen. We explained to him that the metastatic community is largely dissatisfied with the small percentage of funding that Komen spends on research, since research is the only thing that will save our lives. I told him that they need to change their split between the national and the locals so that more money is available for research. His response was that he doesn’t believe Komen will change that ratio, and that Komen would not begin funding more research until the metastatic community gets behind Komen. He said that if we want Komen to spend more on research, we should participate in their fundraising efforts. He said that more fundraising would mean more money available for research. I told him there was no way that our community could get behind an organization that chooses to spend its money on things other than saving our lives, especially given that there are other organizations that spend a much larger proportion of their funding on research, including BCRF, which now outstrips Komen in dollars spent annually on research. His response was that if that’s how we feel, we should just support BCRF instead. And he walked away.

This is what a national leader for Komen feels about the metastatic patient. We are disposable because we don’t fundraise for them. Do not let them fool you into believing they care about us. Our lives don’t matter to them. And that’s why Komen is irrelevant to us. We must and will save our own lives.

Holley Kitchen, whose direct and moving video went viral, also had an encounter with a Susan. G. Komen foundation representative:

image3

Susan G. Komen Foundation has proven time and time again that it cares about money and donation$, and the lives of those with metastatic breast cancer are secondary.  Metastatic breast cancer is what killed Susan G. Komen, a real woman who died way too young.  Yet when those with stage 4 have stood up to the organization and its representatives, they are told time and time again that maybe Komen will care if they begin raising money for them.

So what’s the point of my anti-Komen diatribes?

Finally, just because I think Komen is an awful organization that has gone way off tracks, it does NOT mean I don’t want you to stop donating toward breast cancer research and programs.  There are so many wonderful organizations that have a mission statement, and (gasp) they are sticking to it.

Why do I keep hating on Nancy & Co.?  Welp, I want to highlight organizations that are awesome and making a big roar out there.  Please consider throwing your support behind these organizations.

  • Metavivor – 100 percent of your donations goes toward researching metastatic breast cancer, and they raise money by selling merchandise.
  • The IBC Network – Did you know that breast cancer can occur without presenting as a lump? Inflammatory Breast Cancer is mostly detected when the cancer is late stage or tragically, stage 4.  It’s an aggressive cancer, and it’s definitely not one that’s ever discussed during our annual Pinktober.  Terry Arnold over at IBC Network is a tireless advocate.
  • Met Up – This is an activist group, which was co-founded by women who have metastatic breast cancer. Read their goals, get involved.  Help their voices be heard.  You cannot call yourself a true breast cancer advocate if you only want to help the “survivors.”

We have so much work that needs to be done.  Recently, the New York Times reported on October 29, 2015 that the incidence rate between white women and African-American women are now equal for the first time.  Previously, women of color were less likely to be diagnosed with breast cancer, but more likely to die from the disease.  Now that the incidence rate is equal, well, does that seem like good news for women of color?  Not in the slightest.

Over all, a black woman given a breast cancer diagnosis is 42 percent more likely to die from the disease than a white woman with breast cancer. An analysis of breast cancer mortality trends in 41 of the largest cities in the United States, published last year in Cancer Epidemiology, found that in some cities the risk is even greater. In Los Angeles, a black woman with breast cancer is about 70 percent more likely to die from the disease than a white woman is. In Memphis, black women face more than double the risk. Black women also are less likely than white women are to be given a diagnosis of early stage disease, and more likely to be given a diagnosis with later stage, and less treatable, tumors, according to the report.

Don’t give up on the cause, even though Nancy & Co. have lost their way.

Advertisements

Pinktober is coming

download (1)

In matter of days, October will be upon us once again, and everywhere you look will be draped in pink ribbons and emblazoned with such words, like, “Brave!” “Survivor!” “Sisterhood!” “Strength!”  When you turn on daytime morning television, the networks will be featuring early-stage survivors and once again, ignoring those living and dying from metastatic breast cancer.   If you’re a fan of professional football, the NFL will be featuring bright, attention-grabbing pink gloves, shoes, and T-shirts, all for breast cancer awareness month (never mind the fact that October is domestic violence awareness month, and the NFL should seriously focus their attention on that problem).  Also, the NFL donates “shockingly” little to breast cancer causes anyway.

Friends, if you are like me and recoil at the pink tchotchkes and offensive T-shirts with puns about breasts, then come sit next to me.  We can plug our ears, close our eyes and sing happy songs to drown out all the noise because that’s what this is: noise.

However, if finding a corner to hide from the Pink Ribbon Biz Business until November isn’t feasible due to family, children, jobs, that sort of thing, then there are ways to survive with your sanity intact. Here are some ways you can fight back against Pink Ribbon Crap Spewing Machine, and most importantly, help those with breast cancer who need your support.

  • Research > awareness

By the hammer of Thor, the word awareness has lost all meaning.  It really has.  I would love to find that one person residing in the U.S. who isn’t aware of the existence of breast cancer and ask them where they have been for the past two or three decades.  A cave?  A cabin in the woods?  The fact of the matter is that we are all aware.  In fact, we are all so aware that the general public doesn’t know much about breast cancer except for its existence.  With all the T-shirts, coffee mugs, bumper stickers and the thousands of other breast cancer-related products doesn’t teach anybody anything beyond the fact that breast cancer exists.

Did you know that approximately 40,000 die from metastatic breast cancer each year?  My mom died from this disease in 1987 at the age of 40, so I have been aware of the fact that breast cancer is deadly since I was only 7 years old.

Did you know that men get breast cancer, too?

Did you know that breast cancer can present with a lump and if so, do you know the warning signs to look out for?

Did you know there are multiple subtypes of breast cancer, such as estrogen positive, Her2+ or triple negative breast cancer?

Did you know that a strong family history and/or genetic makes up small number of breast cancer diagnosis?  (American Cancer Society estimates that number to be approximately 5 to 10 percent.)

If you have had a friend or family member go through or die from breast cancer and you want to help in a meaningful way, then support organizations who are researching breast cancer.  Stand Up to Cancer, and the Dr. Susan Love Research Foundation are pretty awesome organizations.  Personally, I support the organization Metavivor since 100 percent of their donations go toward research grants.  I know I have made it very clear why I abhor the Susan G. Komen foundation, which leads me to my next point…..

  • Think before you pink

This is just a great general rule to live by in a world saturated with pink products.  If you are thinking of purchasing a product that says that X amount of proceeds go to X charity, then do a little research before buying the product.   Questions to ask: is this a charity I feel comfortable receiving my money, or would I be better off just making a donation myself and writing off a tax deduction?   You can research non-profit organizations on Charity Navigator.

Susan G. Komen receives 2 out of 4 stars, and as of September 27, 2015, it has an overall score of 78.97.  It scored 70.53 percent in overall financial and 96 percent in accountability and transparency.  Judith Solerno, CEO, received $209,120 in compensation, and Nancy G. Brinker received $480,784 in compensation (more than twice her CEO’s salary?).

Susan Love Research Foundation receives 3 out of 4 stars, and as of the same date, it has an oval score of 85.07.  The foundation scored 80.09 percent in overall financial and 93 percent in accountability and transparency.  Susan Love, president of the organization, received $225,000 in compensation.

Another important question to ask, according to the Breast Cancer Action organization:

What is the company doing to ensure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

Please see Breast Cancer Action’s website for examples of more than questionable campaigns created in the name of breast cancer awareness.

  • Breast cancer is not a game – it’s a serious, deadly disease.

Weeks ago, it was brought to my attention that a new breast cancer status awareness game began.  I may have sprained an eyeball from rolling it so hard at the stupidity of it this year, something about leprechauns or speeding tickets.  I can’t keep up, nor do I want to keep up with this.  Breast cancer is NOT a game, or a reason to take off your bra for… some reason that still doesn’t make sense to me.

giphy (1)

Whenever I have seen this “game,” I have this conversation play out in my mind:

Me: Friend, I saw that you posted a weird status about getting out of a traffic ticket with a boob, and I know what you’re doing.  Stahp.  Just stahp.

Friend: But… I’m raising awareness for breast cancer?  Isn’t that something you want?

Me: You haven’t raised awareness for anything except that you fall for stupid games and feel compelled to pass it along to unsuspecting folks on your friends list.  You are literally helping nobody by this status.

Friend: You’re an asshole, Lara.

Me: Why that may be true, it doesn’t take away from the fact that you are literally helping nobody by this.  Nobody.  You haven’t shared any facts, links to any good blogs, organizations or call to actions.  Literally nobody has come out of this the wiser.

Friend: [Unfriends Lara]

… and scene.

We can do  this, Get Up Swinging friends.  We can get through this Pinktober, and we will live to tell the tale.

MIA

For the last couple of months, I have been extremely busy with work, photography jobs and running.  During all that, I came across a lump in my abdomen which gave me pause.  I initially felt the lump in April when I was participating at Atlanta’s Ragnar Relay.  The small lump is located near my left ribs, and the very thought of a lump near my ribs worried me.  Still, I gave it a wait-and-see month period because the lump presented without any pain.

After a month went by, I decided to be a good little cancer patient and get the lump checked out.  When you’ve had cancer, you just can’t let unexplained lumps go unchecked.  Unfortunately, my beloved breast surgeon retired last year, which meant finding a new doctor to add to my doctor roster.  In a perfect world, my beloved breast surgeon would stay on forever and ever, but alas. You have to roll with the changes.

I ended up seeing a surgeon that looked to be my age or even younger, which threw me for a loop.  All of my surgeons have so far been old enough to my grandparents.  Grey’s Anatomy would lead you all to believe that all surgeons look like Patrick Dempsey or Katherine Heigl.  In my experience, all the surgeons I have had are more like an episode of Golden Girls (without the sass of Sophia, unfortunately).

The surgeon felt the lump and immediately told me that the lump was just a lipoma (i.e. a benign tumor of fatty tissue.).  Oh thank God.

giphy

gatsby-leo-051113

During that week of my appointment, I felt anxious and worried.  I also felt angry.  Why must my body keep forming unexplained lumps?  Is that my super power after all this radiation and chemotherapy?  More lumps and tests to see what my insides just formed now?  Why can’t my body flourish and create actual life, not just the occasional tumor?  I can run a dozen half marathons, but now and then, I’m reminded that life isn’t always fair and my health could possibly be taken from me.

I consider myself blessed and very lucky that this turned out to be nothing.  If the lipoma gets bigger and causes discomfort, then I can have it removed.  It’s been almost five years since my diagnosis, and I have continued to remain no evidence of disease.  I thank my lucky stars every day, and when the next scare comes along, I will deal with that one, too.

In the meantime, I want to focus on those who haven’t been as lucky as me.  Those with metastatic breast cancer need to be at the forefront of every conversation when it comes to breast cancer.  How can we help those living with stage 4 to keep their disease at bay and live years without any disease progression?   Every year, approximately 40,000 women (and men) die of this disease, and that needs to change.  Pink is not a cure, and 108 die every day.

Mets Monday: Susanne

For today’s Mets Monday, let me introduce you to Susanne.  This is her Facebook page and her GoFundMe page.

When were you diagnosed (initially and then at stage 4, that is, if you were not stage 4 off the bat) and at what age?  What type of breast cancer (i.e., er+ or triple neg)?

I got the call that the biopsy came back positive for cancer on November 19, 2013. A couple weeks later, a PET scan and a second biopsy confirmed it was already metastatic to the liver. I’m ER/PR+, Her2-, invasive ductal carcinoma.

I was 39 years old.

What is life like as a metser? 

Not easy. Coping with this for me is a weird dichotomy of knowing I’m going to die, and hoping I’m going to live. I wrote a blog post a while back comparing it to a Hail Mary pass in a football game. You’ve got four seconds left on the clock, and you know you’re going to lose the game, but you still keep your butt parked on the bleachers because those Hail Mary passes can and do sometimes happen in those last few seconds.

I spend time getting things ready for my funeral, arranging a pre-pay insurance, writing the obituary, figuring out what hospice I want to use, that sort of thing. It feels like the more I plan and get out of the way, the freer I am to live my life and not worry about the details. I plan for my death so I can live.

I don’t want to die. Last night I had a sobbing, screaming panic about reality. I don’t want to die. I want to be able to stay here forever, I want to grow old with my wife, I want to see the first humans on Mars, I want to be a little old lady in a nursing home someday weirding out the CNAs and decorating my room with print outs of cat macros. I don’t want to die. It’s not fair. I have so much I wanted to do, so much I still want to do. It’s not fair.


Would you say the general public as a whole knows a lot about breast cancer?

No. They know it exists, but not much beyond that. There is awareness, but pink has normalized breast cancer to the extent that we no longer think of the dying. People are aware that breast cancer is a thing that happens, but nothing more. It’s assumed that people don’t die from breast cancer anymore, that there’s a cure now, it’s just an easy rite of passage of womanhood and it’s nothing to worry about anymore.

It’s not even a chronic, treatable disease. It’s killing us and it’s not slowed down in decades. It’s not a pink, pretty, sexy, easy disease with a free boob job. We’re dying. And the general public doesn’t really know nor care.

 What does “breast cancer awareness” mean to you?

It means making the public aware that pink ribbons don’t save lives, early detection doesn’t “cure” breast cancer, and that if you have breast cancer, you’re at a risk of metastasis, period. It’s not a disease that strikes older women; young women can get it too. It’s not even a woman’s disease, men get breast cancer, and the general public isn’t aware of this. There’s awareness of a generic concept of breast cancer, what we need now is awareness of the reality of this disease. That’s seriously lacking.


What type of misconceptions about breast cancer have you encountered?  Has anyone ever said something ignorant to you, obviously not knowing what stage 4 breast cancer is?

I’ve been told that breast cancer is a ‘rite of passage’. Someone expressed relief when they found out I had breast cancer, because it’s one of the “good ones”. I was told “your hair’s growing back, though. That’s good, right?” when I was trying to explain that I was never going to be out of treatment for metastatic breast cancer.

What makes you happy?

My wife, primarily. This has been incredibly hard on her, and we have so many regrets and fears and anger about having our years together robbed by this. She is everything to me. I fight so hard against this disease because I want to stay with her forever.

SusanneJennEngagement03

What advice would you give someone who truly does want to help the breast cancer community, especially those with metastatic breast cancer?

Pay attention to where the money goes. Don’t assume that because it’s a pink ribbon, it helps anyone. There’s a multi-million dollar merchandising industry being built on the backs of the dead and the dying. Be aware of how little goes to metastatic research. Be aware that you’re not “in the clear” at any magical point. A cure for metastasis is a cure for you too. Be aware that breast cancer is being normalized and sexualized and turned into a profit machine. You are worth more than your breasts. Be aware that mammograms are not perfect. For younger women, they’re often ineffectual due to the density of breast tissue. Even for older women, they might not always show up on scans.

We deserve more, we deserve better treatment, better awareness, better research into a valid, viable cure which will benefit all stages. The death rate from metastasis has not changed over the last 40 years. Early detection isn’t saving lives. We need funding into research, and we need people to be more aware of what their dollars support.

But perhaps the most important thing is to let us have our voice. Don’t hush us up or put us in the corner and give us bare bones acknowledgment because we’re your worst nightmare. We’re dying. Don’t begrudge us our remaining time to have a voice to speak out against this disease. Don’t tell us we’re wrong when we point out the stats and the funding. Don’t defend those who want us to be quiet. You might find yourself walking in our shoes. If you don’t want to be where we are, let us try to make history and give us enough awareness for a shot at finding a cure.

We’ll be quiet enough when we’re dead.

Please visit METAvivor and Live from Stage IV for more information.

Mets Monday: Carolyn

Everyone, please meet my friend, Carolyn.

20150315CFrayn20150315CFraynIMG_3333-01Final-680

When were you diagnosed and at what age?  What type of breast cancer (i.e., er+ or triple neg)?

On May 1st, 2009, I was diagnosed with stage III, er+ pr+ HER2+ (or triple positive), breast cancer at the age of 48, a few days before my youngest son turned sixteen. Due to the extreme growth of the breast tumour and other symptoms prior to the mastectomy it was speculated that I had inflammatory breast cancer but it was not noted as such.

On July 29th, 2012, at the age of 51, I was diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer (stage IV) after it was finally determined that the pain I had been in for many months was due to a breast cancer tumour destroying my C6 vertebra. This fact was missed by radiologist(s) in two CT scans until a neurologist found it while reviewing my older scans.

Inflammatory breast cancer hit my remaining breast in October, 2013. While the pathology remains triple positive, it can’t be said with certainty that it was due to metastasize or a new occurrence.

What is life like as a metser?

Difficult, joyful, exhausting, uncertain, some days more painful than others, some weeks I can’t manage the dishes or get off the couch, some days I can dance. For each person living with MBC there is a unique combination of conditions, variables, treatments, response, and progression of disease. I’ve yet to embrace the term “new normal.” There is nothing normal about life with metastatic cancer, new or otherwise.

For me, life happens in the spaces between my examinations, blood work, and IV infusions. Every three months I have CT scans to head, neck, chest and abdomen, which includes IV contrast injections. Every two months I have an echocardiogram to determine how my heart is coping with my infusions of Herceptin, which is much preferable over the many muga scans I had during my first year with that drug. Full body bone scans, MRI’s, and x-rays are intermittent.

While life happens I’m plagued with constant neck spasms which cause my head to move to the side repeatedly during the day, a distended, firm carotid artery, painful cramping in my chest, neck and esophagus, and an uncomfortable, often painful, upper spine due to spine surgery and the titanium cage, rods and screws. When I yawn, I can’t swallow or breathe well until I massage a neck cramp away.

The treatments and surgeries I’ve undergone over the last seven years have taken a toll. I have peripheral neuropathy, my extremities are numb full time. I’m prone to trip as I can’t feel my toes. My hands wear invisible gloves that I can’t remove. Fibrosis (scarring) and adhesions are also a pain in the neck, chest, ribs, back, shoulders, etc. Two of my bottom teeth are hanging on by a thread, and some of my upper middle gum came off during my neck radiation. There are other ongoing and permanent side effects as well, including cognitive decline.

My favourite moments: Reclining in my lazy boy to relieve symptoms while chatting with my youngest son and listening to his favourite music. When my two older sons and daughter-in-law come to call. Tea with my systir and niece. Laughing with my family during our visits, dinners and events. Tending and loving my eight month old grandson, a joy I didn’t think I’d experience once diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Walking with my friend and her dog.

When my sister, brother, sister-in-law, and I get together with our children and our Mom, breast cancer is no longer so very present in my mind. It took me almost six years to get to this point.

The most disconcerting issue I find is the uncertainty. We just don’t know how long we have left to live after a metastatic breast cancer diagnosis, when we will progress, what – or if – treatments will be available when we do, nor what type of death we can expect. We could live the median of two to three years, or we could be an outlier, that infinitesimal percentage of people who live 8, 10 years, or longer. It messes with your mind, your sleep, your resolve.

What type of misconceptions about breast cancer have you encountered?  Has anyone ever said something ignorant to you, obviously not knowing what stage 4 breast cancer is?

When you have breast cancer, you are never cured, no matter what stage you were originally diagnosed. There is no cure. If you were not diagnosed with MBC from the start, Metastatic (aka stage IV) breast cancer can become your reality at any time; a year, a few years, or many years after your original early stage diagnosis. I have learned that many people, with or without breast cancer, are not aware of this fact.

I’m continually told, “you beat it once, you’ll beat it this time!” No. I will not. Nor did I beat it the first time. It is not under my control. We manage it, while it grows in our bodies and attacks our bones, our other organs, our brains, until we can’t manage it any longer.

I find it is an innate human desire, for most people, to comfort and somewhat coddle those who are going through early stage breast cancer. While encouragement, support, and hope is most certainly warranted and necessary, I feel that the hard truths must be given as well. The misconception being, that we need to be coddled. I don’t believe we do.

One day at the grocery store a young man at the check out asked me how I was. I said that I was fine, that particular day I was telling the truth even though I was in pain. He then went on to inform me that he had a cold, his girlfriend left him, and he hated work. I don’t know what possessed me, but I asked him, are you dying? He looked a little stunned, and didn’t respond, no doubt thinking I was off my rocker. I couldn’t believe I had asked that, perhaps it was due to large pink sign above his till, and the many products with pink ribbons that surrounded me. I then explained that I had metastatic breast cancer, stage IV, and that it was terminal, it will kill me.

He said, “No one dies of breast cancer anymore, my Mom died of it, but they fixed it.”

My heart sank, for more than one reason.

How do you think the Pink Ribbon culture has harmed those with stage 4?

The Pink Ribbon culture has overwhelmed us with profit minded individuals and corporations who claim to be altruistic in their goals. I’m sure most people are quite sick of pink and zone out when pink is shoved in their face, not just during Pinktober, but all year long. I know I am. Quite sick of it. But breast cancers association with pink is ingrained in our lives and I doubt it will be going anywhere soon, and I’d like to see the focus on donations and fundraising shift almost fully towards research and education.

Mainstream media could help change direction, but I’m afraid that with the pink, comes the desire to show the happy survivor, the hope and the dreams, rather than the approximate 30% of us with breast cancer who will become metastatic and die. This attitude has been slightly changing of late, let’s hope the momentum continues.

The pink ribbon, originally salmon coloured, was introduced to create a much needed awareness of breast cancer. And while breast cancer awareness is still important in many countries, awareness of metastatic breast cancer is sorely lacking in all. The messages from these awareness campaigns have sanitized our disease, not to mention partially obliterated the reason behind the original intent of the pink ribbon movement. Pink ribbon campaigns in the marketplace are quite lucrative, a great way to bring in consumer dollars for any end product, from toiletries and pink hammers to pornography. But where are those funds going? We need donations to count, research is key.

Recently the Susan G. Komen corporation put out a new campaign using a woman with stage IV breast cancer as their highlighted warrior. I’m encouraged that they are no longer hiding stage IV in the back room, however, the message is wrong. Again.

“Don’t let breast cancer win.”

No one living with metastatic breast cancer has a choice in the matter, we aren’t losers, but breast cancer WILL kill us. The statement on Komen’s stage IV survivor ad, as well as others I’ve read in various promotions, place the blame directly at those of us living with this disease. It’s our fault if we die, we didn’t fight hard enough. That’s the message. It’s insulting, insensitive, inappropriate, and complete bullshit.

In the US the message that seems most prevalent in the pink ribbon campaigns is that early detection saves lives. The truth is, early detection does not prevent metastases. Plain and simple. If you have early stage breast cancer, it can come back, metastasize, turn your life upside down and eventually cause death. The market seems saturated with misguided information and greed, the focus has been corrupted, change is needed.

I personally stay away from anything that says “Komen.” Their message, their million dollar plus legal fights to keep “for the cure” to themselves, and the questionably high salary that the their founder takes home, are all concerning. It is my personal opinion that they are the bully foundation for what is known as the bully cancer. And why are we known as the bully cancer? Probably due to the pink ribbon culture.

There are other organizations that direct a much greater percentage of funds towards research verses awareness. The Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation is one of those organizations, and is transparent regarding fund allocation.

METAvivor‘s mission is quite clear, 100% of all donations goes towards metastatic research. Please check them out if you want more information.

Breast cancer doesn’t kill you until it metastasizes, yet stage IV seems mostly ignored within the Pink Ribbon culture. At least that’s how I felt a few years ago and I don’t feel all that differently right now. I wrote about my views in two posts, starting with Fifty Shades of Pink, back in 2013. That post will link to the next, my rant. At that time, I did not think I’d still be alive come 2015.

No amount of positive thinking is going to change the outcome of metastatic breast cancer. Research will.

What advice would you give someone who truly does want to help the breast cancer community, especially those with metastatic breast cancer?

Educate yourself, share the reality of breast cancer, share the truth of metastatic breast cancer, and don’t be afraid to talk with those of us living with MBC.

Be mindful that many of us, especially those with mets, don’t care about saving the ta-ta’s, boobie’s, the girls. Many of us don’t even have breasts. We care about saving lives. Life goes on after your breasts are amputated. We want parents to raise their children and watch their children grow, couples to enjoy the years together that they hoped for. We want to enjoy our lives and live without debilitating side effects, no matter our ages.

Many of us are insulted by the facebook games and various campaigns that go around claiming they are spreading awareness of breast cancer. One example was the popular no-bra day. I feel those games are trivializing our condition, and continuing to sexualize our disease. Every day is no-bra for some of us. This type of activity is not helpful. Those who play the games, and those who see them, are most assuredly fully aware of breast cancer.

Please visit these organizations for information on breast cancer and MBC:

Canadian Breast Cancer Foundation
Breast Cancer Consortium
BCSM (Breast Cancer Social Media) Community
LBBC (Living Beyond Breast Cancer)
MBCN (Metastatic Breast Cancer Network)
METAvivor

How can someone diagnosed with early stage breast cancer be a good ally to those with stage 4?

Once immersed in life with metastatic breast cancer I quickly became knowledgable with respect to it’s randomness and ultimate end. I then realized that when I was diagnosed and dealing with stage III breast cancer I didn’t have a clue about metastatic breast cancer. I had pamphlets, and one book that my original oncologist contributed to, which I read, though I’m not sure the very real possibility of becoming metastatic sunk in. I’m going to be just fine! I’ve had my surgery and treatments, I’m outta here!

I’d like to think that landscape is changing, people with early stage disease are better informed, personally informed, in your face informed, and not just handed a few things to read. But, it’s probably more likely that because I’m now fully immersed, I am fully aware, and because those I write and talk with are fully aware, I often assume others are as well.

We have work to do. Education is so important. The reality is hard to swallow but necessary to accept. That’s how change happens.

Keep in mind that those of us who were not diagnosed with stage IV from the start, once walked in your shoes. Living with stage IV, metastatic breast cancer, is in some ways similar to going through the various treatments for early stage breast cancer, two differences being that our treatments are forever, and our condition worsens until breast cancer kills us. There are obviously other differences, but hopefully my point makes sense.

Please remember that your breast cancer can come back at any time, I’m not trying to be a fear monger and certainly don’t wish you to live with constant dread, but I feel it’s important to remain realistic and vigilant.

Metastatic breast cancer is a widespread global killer of both sexes, young, old, and in between. In 2012, 524865 women and 3324 men died of metastatic breast cancer. Many MBC deaths go unreported as such, therefore the true numbers are higher.

If you wish to help us be heard, educate yourself about Metastatic Breast Cancer (stage IV), don’t pretend it doesn’t exist, and help us spread it’s reality.

Change is on the horizon! I might even live to see some of it. That’d be cool.

I’d like to thank Lara Huffman for allowing me this opportunity to share my views and concerns with respect to metastatic breast cancer.

You can read my story, rants, and musings at Art of Breast Cancer and if you are so inclined, follow me on Facebook, twitter, google+, and pinterest.

Fare thee well, Lisa

A prominent voice in the breast cancer community, Lisa Bonchek Adams, died of metastatic breast cancer last week.  I followed her on Twitter and Facebook, and I read as much of her writing as I could.   She was initially diagnosed with early stage breast cancer.  She underwent all the treatment for early stage breast cancer, including having an oopherectomy.    Lisa writes about that here.   She did everything she was supposed to do treatment-wise, yet she still fell into the 30 percent category of those whose breast cancer recurred stage 4.

As someone with early stage breast cancer, her story is bone-chilling, frightening to me.   My biggest fear used to be developing breast cancer like my mom, and that’s happened.  My biggest fear now: my breast cancer coming back stage 4, and I die at a young age just like her.  Stage 4 is the nightmare.  It’s my nightmare, and at the same time, it’s made me beyond appreciative for my current good bill of health.  I feel a heightened sense of panic and anxiety every time I visit with my oncologist and that won’t ever change.

I won’t turn my back and pretend that metastatic breast cancer doesn’t exist because for so many, my nightmare is their reality.  I have come to accept that this may happen to me, but I won’t ignore the fact that approximately 40,000 die of this disease every year.   I won’t ignore those like Lisa, and so many others who died of a disease packaged up in a prettysexycool pink exterior.

Lisa did not subscribe to the Pink Ribbon Culture.  She was critical of Komen.  She railed against the Pink Ribbon Culture with open, honest talk about the disease, and its effects.  She talked openly with her three children about her disease and its ultimate outcome.  Since I barely remember my mother because my parents shielded me from the last six months of her life, I appreciated Lisa’s honesty with her children.  I wished my parents hadn’t shielded me so much, then perhaps I would have a memory of my own mother.

Lisa also didn’t subscribe to the cancer pep talks, and in a May 2013 Salon article, she commented:

“I don’t need to be told to fight the good fight to beat it or the key is to just stay strong or that it’s mind over matter.  You force me to assert my knowledge, insist upon my diagnosis, explain the desperate nature of my disease, spend my time defending my sentence.”

After her death, a friend of mine with Stage 4 breast cancer posted something Lisa wrote entitled “When I Die” on Facebook.  Here’s a snippet from that post:

Don’t try to comfort my children by telling them I’m an angel watching over them from heaven or that I’m in a better place:

There is no better place to me than being here with them.

They have learned about grief and they will learn more.

That is part of it all.

(For all those who believe that a positive attitude is all you need to beat breast cancer, how would a positive attitude ever trump a parent’s desire to see their children grow up?  Riddle me that, Batman.)

While I often refer to my mother as my guardian angel, the second line really punched me in the gut: “There is no better place to me than being here with them.”  Oh my heart, it hurts.  As a woman whose had breast cancer and the daughter of a woman who died of the same disease, I gained insight into what my mom had to have been feeling as she knew her time was limited.

If you, dear Get Up Swinging readers, want to help those with metastatic breast cancer and honor Lisa’s memory, then you can do so here.

Lisa didn’t lose her battle or a years-long fight.  She died of metastatic breast cancer at the age of 45.  The metastatic breast cancer community lost a powerful voice and advocate, but her words will live on.

Positivity Police

I will be the first to admit that when it comes to cancer, I am probably not the most positive person.  I never viewed my two years of treatment as some “journey,” and I absolutely despise those who call cancer a “gift.”   (If you think cancer is a “gift,” then you were on the receiving end of some pretty crappy gifts in your life.)  I would go as far as to say I’m a cynic and realist about cancer, but not a Debbie Downer.

debbie-downer

That’s not me, I swear!

The pressure to remain positive during cancer treatment starts at the very moment you are diagnosed, and you are relaying this information to friends and family.  I tried my absolute hardest to maintain this mindset during treatment, but it didn’t last long. Maybe a couple of months?  When you’re dealing with stress from treatment on top of family relationships being tested and broken, it takes a toll.  You can only smile so much as you endure chemotherapy and bad news after bad news.

Forced-Smile

Author Barbara Ehrenreich (who also had breast cancer) wrote:

The effect of all this positive thinking is to transform breast cancer into a rite of passage – not an injustice or a tragedy to rail against but a normal marker in the life cycle, like menopause or grandmotherhood. Everything in mainstream breast cancer culture serves, no doubt inadvertently, to tame and normalise the disease. Indeed, you can defy the inevitable disfigurements and come out, on the survivor side, actually prettier, sexier, more feminine. In the lore of the disease – shared with me by oncology nurses as well as by survivors – chemotherapy smoothes and tightens the skin and helps you lose weight, and when your hair comes back it will be fuller, softer, easier to control, and perhaps a surprising new colour. These may be myths, but for those willing to get with the prevailing programme, opportunities for self-improvement abound. Breast cancer is a chance for creative self-transformation – a makeover opportunity, in fact.

When asked what would he say to someone who credits positive thinking to their survival, psychologist Richard Sloan commented in a November 27, 2011 CBSNews.com article: “I’d say, I’m very happy for you, I’m glad you survived. But for every one of you who said you were going to fight your way out of it, there are probably dozens of people who said precisely the same thing and didn’t survive.  One person’s anecdote doesn’t make evidence.”

Exactly!  Those who died of metastatic cancer weren’t all negative Nancys or Debbie Downers.  A lot of lovely people with amazing attitudes died of cancer.

I would hope that anybody going through cancer would feel allowed to feel whatever they are feeling.  You should silence those voices and pressure around you insisting that you must remain positive, and be authentic to yourself.  If you’re feeling down, that’s okay.  If you’re feeling awesome because it’s an off-chemo week, then masel tov!  I don’t want anyone to put on a fake smile and pretend to be hunky dory if you’re sad.  It’s okay – cancer sucks.  If it was easy, then, well… who the heck ever said cancer was easy?

A fellow blogger and I discussed our hesitation to even write about the pressure to remain positive during and after treatment for a very messed up reason.  What if we voice these not-so-popular opinions and then later have our cancers recur, then will people think, “Yeah, she brought this upon herself by being so negative.”  If my cancer recurs next year or 10 years from now, am I going to be blamed for it because I didn’t don a pink boa and a punny T-shirt about breasts?

If someone you love is going through cancer and you’re not sure how to act or speak to them about the disease, just know your audience.  If that person loves the battle metaphors and fighting persona, then go nuts.  There are a lot of merchandise you can buy for them.  Boy, is there ever.

However, if your loved one is someone like me, someone who talks about his/her experiences candidly and without putting on that Cancer Brave Face, then just listen to them.  Empathize.  You don’t have to put on your brave face, either.  It’s okay to just hang out with someone.  During my treatment, I became super skilled at just hanging out because I couldn’t really do much else.  Be there for your friend and family, and never put your need for them to act like everything is fine because cancer scares the shit out of you over their own well being.

Whatever you’re feeling, it’s okay.

Stories

Recently, I began asking my dad more about my mother’s family.

Even though my mother has been gone since 1987, my dad is still an amazing source whenever I’m craving insight into her family.   He has been and still is the go to guy when I want to know anything about my grandparents or mother.  I’m pretty sure if my dad ever took piñata form, and you knocked him open, nothing but stories would come falling out.  I may look exactly like my mother, but my personality is straight up from my dad.

I have written before about my grandmothers.  This time around, I wanted to dig a little deeper about the one who I barely remember or who I think I barely remember.  (Does remembering a deep smoker’s voice telling me to give her “some sugar” count as a memory?)  Who is my mother’s mother?

When I googled my grandmother’s name, I found out my great grandparents name, which I never knew before.  But I don’t want to just create a family tree, look at all the filled-in names, say, “I’m done,” and then pat myself on the back for doing such a splendid job.  I want to get to know these names, not just where they place in my family tree.

During my great family google, I even uncovered a great aunt’s name, which I had never heard (or maybe I had, but it had been so long that I had forgotten).  According to my dad, my great grandfather and his family arrived in Texas in a cover wagon.  My mom’s cousin told me that my great aunt was a loving woman who greeted beloved family members by kissing them and exclaiming, “I love you!”  Another cousin of my mom’s said that my mother made the best lasagna.

See, I did not know that.

My grandmother died when I was 3 years old of lung cancer, and my mother died when I was 7.  I’m not that close to my mother’s siblings since I have never lived in the same state as any of them.  I have these family members out there who I don’t know, and who don’t know me.  Sadly, I have these family members I will never know.

Every time I look at this photograph of me sitting next to my grandmother, where my face is so done up with so much makeup that I looked like a toddler beauty queen, it makes me laugh.  Man, she must have had a good time painting my little toddler face.   I wonder if she would have found my anti-girly girl personality during my teen-aged years to be unbecoming and would have had talks with me about how I could pretty up my appearance.

While pictures are great, stories are something else.  When I hear these stories, no matter how insignificant they might be to the story teller, my grandmother and mother come alive.  They become real people.  Any stories about these women slowly fill in giant holes in my heart that cancer created.  I don’t care if the stories paint either woman in a less than flattering light.  They were real life humans once, before cancer came along, and they had flaws just like everyone else.

I am third generation cancer.  I am sad that I never got to hear stories from my grandmother about what my mom was like as a child.  I have certainly never dreamed of shopping for wedding gowns since my mother and grandmother are no longer here.  Cancer took them from me, but lately, when I learn more about them, they are more than the disease that took their lives.  They are my family, and I know that I come from a line of women who will always be more powerful than cancer.

Wedding2

Backbone

Backstage at a dance recital when I was in the fifth grade, two girls took a toy away from me and decided to play keep away.  They tossed the toy back and forth with me in the middle yelling, “GIVE IT BACK.”  When my protests didn’t yield the result I wanted, I stomped on one of the girls’ foot and shrieked, “I said… GIVE IT BACK.”   Since I stomped on her foot with my high-heeled tap shoe, she quickly handed over my toy, and I walked away in victory.  I never did like the keep away game.

Two years later, in a seventh grade history class, Austin, the kid who sat behind me, decided to be a dick (or a typical 12- to 13-year old) and pull my desk away from me when I sat down.  As expected, I fell down, and everybody in the class laughed at me.  I got up furious.  Austin laughed the hardest, and I’m pretty sure my face turned red in rage and embarrassment.  I picked up the binder from his desk and threw it across the classroom.  Well, Austin’s binder was full of nothing but loose leaf paper, and all the papers went flying every which way.  The history teacher, who saw and heard everything, stood up from his desk and ordered Austin to go outside (after he collected all his paper, of course).  He protested and said, “Why isn’t Lara going outside?  She threw my binder!”  The teacher replied: “You started it.”   I felt vindicated as I watched him sulk outside the classroom.

As I went through middle school and high school, I slowly lost that fight I had in me.  In middle school, I was openly ridiculed and laughed at by my peers.  They would point and laugh at me, and call me all sorts of names, with an emphasis on how ugly they thought I was.  However, my story is certainly not a unique story.  Puberty is a bitch, and anyone who comes out of adolescence unscathed is lucky, lying or the one who did the name-calling.

Routinely hearing how others think you are the ugliest thing they had ever seen, does take a toll on you.  It’s like every time someone decided to put me down to make themselves feel better, they took a piece of my self-esteem, backbone from me.   I learned to keep my head down and to stare at the floor because sometimes making eye contact with them, just fueled the nastiness in their heart.  I internalized these insults, these unwanted names (again, not atypical for young teenage girls).

I am hideous.

My hair is a mess.

Ugh, my teeth are messed up.

During college, I slowly got some of that fight back in me.  Usually, though, these instances were just examples of me being young, stupid and drunk, aka a typical college student, but these moments of backbone were motivated by my desire to stick up for a friend.  Once at a bar, I totally lost it when this random guy was saying obscene, offensive things to my roommate and best friend.  The dude was just being nasty, and he was not taking the hint from my friend that she thought he was nasty.  Me, being young, stupid and drunk, told him off, and our fight quickly got ugly.  After I called him out for being a nasty creep, he of course had to call me a bitch and then an ugly bitch (because the worst insult a woman can be called is ugly – yawn – or a bitch).   This guy and I had to be separated after I got in his face.

A year or so later, I tried to stick up for this friend of a friend who was being dense and not noticing or caring that he was invading another guy’s space.  I said, “Hey, it’s cool,” to the guy who was losing his temper and threatening the dense friend of a friend.  This guy growled at me, “Bitch, shut the fuck up.  If you say another word, I will beat the shit out of you.”  I believed his threat and became paralyzed in fear.   The guy who threatened me was escorted out of the bar after my friend got me to tell her why I was shaking in fear, and she told the bouncer.

As I got older, once again, I lost that fight, my backbone just fading away.  I never stuck up for myself against certain individuals, who would treat me like a doormat.  Now and then, I would argue or walk away instead of letting someone boss me around or treat me poorly.  I didn’t fight.

I compromised.  I played nice, even when I was mad or insulted, and bit my tongue, even when someone said something unkind.  But if you keep doing that, as I learned, you let others think it’s okay to talk or act a certain way around you.  By playing nice, these negative people learned it was okay to treat me with little to no respect.  I mean, why not?  It’s not like I would ever say anything.

Then breast cancer happened.

After five surgeries, seven weeks of radiation, four months of chemotherapy, one anaphylactic reaction (and a partridge in a pear tree), I became a shell of myself.  After I emerged from the wreckage that is cancer treatment, I had to rebuild myself.  My priorities and perspectives changed, and much to my surprise, my fight came back.   I guess, when you deal with insurance company bullshit, plus all the stress that comes with managing your treatment, appointments, job (if applicable) and personal relationships, you have to have some backbone.   My fight definitely came through whenever I had to make repeated calls to Aetna and fight them over their most recent bullshit claim denial.   My backbone reappeared when I let friendships that should have died years ago just fall by the wayside.

In recent months, I have stuck up for myself in ways I had never done in my adolescence or early adulthood.   When I felt hurt and offended by a loved one, I told that person that they hurt me and why they hurt me.  Although I received a negative response, I felt better because I expressed myself and my feelings are valid, even if they make someone mad.   When someone confronted me for what I wrote (and to be fair, what I wrote was passive aggressive and uncalled for), I stood up for myself and didn’t back down from what turned out to be a nasty fight.

Don’t get me wrong – I’m not going turn into some Bravo Reality Tv Housewife and start flipping tables and screaming obscenities.  I’m certainly not going to be physically fighting anyone (yikes!) or creating Youtube videos telling my “haters” to suck it.   (Waaat.)   It means having professional goals and aspirations and fighting for them.  It means I’m not going to care about how many friends I have – just about the quality.   It means I want to have authentic relationships with my loved ones, which means expressing my feelings instead of swallowing them.

It means I’m going to stand up for myself, no matter what – because I’m worth fighting for.  Since I’ve already ran two half marathons and additional long races, I know I have some fight in me.