My 9 Wishes

A couple of weeks ago, I shared 9 breast cancer-related wishes to mark the 9th year since I was told I had breast cancer. Much to my surprise, my friends asked me to make the status public and complete strangers actually shared it. (Wuuuut). So, to kick off another Breast Cancer Awareness month, aka Pinktober, or Stinkober, I want to share these 9 wishes again. However, this time – I’m expanding on these wishes. Get ready for some links, analysis and probably a lot more curse words.  I am who I am.

I have 9 wishes I want to make to mark the 9th year since I was told I had breast cancer:

1. I wish for nobody to play the stupid FB “awareness” game for breast cancer this year. It’s dumb, and it fills me with rage when I see it. I see red, not going to lie. My disease isn’t a fun cutesy game.

I have written about this before and I know I’m repeating myself. I don’t care. I’m also going to reshare something Lisa Bonchek Adams (who died from metastatic breast cancer) wrote about this in a January 17, 2013 blog post:

Anyone who has breast cancer and uses your FB status update as an indicator of whether you support their cause is not very enlightened. When I rank “how to help those of us with cancer,” sharing one of these paragraphs as a status update is the lowest possible method of showing support. There are endless ways to do that. I think it actually is the opposite; sharing these status updates makes people feel they are doing something real for breast cancer causes when they aren’t.

I’ve also had it with the “I’ll bet most of my friends won’t share this post” attempt to guilt me in to sharing something like “share this if you think domestic abuse is awful.” “Share this if you think autistic kids are special.” Well yes, actually, I believe both of those things. And just because I didn’t share them as my status update doesn’t mean I do NOT agree with the statements.

Just don’t do it, please. I’d rather you do nothing than share that.

2. I wish for everyone to think before you pink this October. Be mindful that the pink items lining the shelves are not doing anything for breast cancer. They are just using my illness to make some sweet sweet dollas.

Here are the questions that Breast Cancer Action wants anyone to think before buying a pink item (see here for the full blog post):

1. Does any money from this purchase go to support breast cancer programs? How much?

For example, you’re at the grocery store, and you see a pair of pink ribbon socks by the register and you think, “Aw these are cute.” Pick up that pair of socks and look at the packaging. Does any money of your purchase go to … anything? Is there a mention of a charity, even if it’s one that’s problematic?

If the answer is no and that pink ribbon item is 100 percent purse capitalistic greed, do me a favor – don’t buy it. Too many companies profited on the deaths of so many.

2. What organization will get the money? What will they do with the funds, and how do these programs turn the tide of the breast cancer epidemic?

3. Is there a “cap” on the amount the company will donate? Has this maximum donation already been met? Can you tell?

4. Does this purchase put you or someone you love at risk for exposure to toxins linked to breast cancer? What is the company doing to ensure that its products are not contributing to the breast cancer epidemic?

3. I wish for the ability to bitch-slap anyone wearing a “save second base” or “save the tatas” shirt and not be arrested. That’d be awesome. I’m talking a slap like Soap Opera level slap.

I wrote “My Disease Isn’t a Cutesy Slogan” 5 years ago, and my feelings have not changed.

Since I had a double-mastectomy, does that mean I somehow failed since mine weren’t saved? Does that mean I am less of a woman, since I technically don’t have breasts anymore? My body image after my double mastectomy has completely changed, and it hasn’t been for the better. When I see “save the tatas” or “save the boobies,” I am constantly reminded of what exists under my shirt — scars, stretch marks and silicone.

These cutesy or provocative slogans offend me because they reduce women to a single body part — our breasts. The body part that could very well mean our death if the cancer spreads from the breast to other organs (aka stage 4 or metastatic breast cancer). It gives the clear message that the focus should be on saving our ability to be sexually attractive to the opposite sex. Heaven forbid you lose the body part that makes others feel attracted to you, because if you lose your sexuality, you lose your worth.

4. I wish for the media to report on cancer and metastatic cancer ACCURATELY. Nobody dies from breast cancer – they die from metastatic breast cancer (ie when it has spread to other organs). When it’s spread to their brain or lung, it’s still breast cancer.

Nobody ever dies from breast cancer. They die from metastatic breast cancer, which is when it’s spread to a distant organ. It is important to accurately report that someone has died from metastatic breast cancer, so the general public knows there is a difference between breast cancer (contained with the breast) and metastatic breast cancer (spread).

The Guardian reported on Jackie Collins’ death in 2015 but made no mention of the word “metastatic.” The BBC also did not mention the word “metastatic.” Recently, the news reported on the death of news anchor Cokie Roberts, whose family released a statement saying she died “due to complications from breast cancer.” I found little to no mention of metastatic breast cancer or recurrence in the news surrounding her death. She was a veteran news anchor – given her profession, you’d think there would be an accurate reporting on what actually killed her.

There needs to be actual acknowledgement of what kills people when they die from this disease. They do not die from breast cancer, they die from metastatic breast cancer. How can we educate the general public if we don’t even use the proper terminology?

5. I wish that my friends who have stage 4 breast cancer can slap early stagers who call them mean or bitter. I realize two of my wishes are related to slapping people, and I’m okay with it.

Rethink Breast Cancer shared the statistic on their Instagram page that 20 to 30 percent of people diagnosed early stage breast cancer will be re-diagnosed with MBC. Y’all, so many early stagers lost their damn minds.

One person commented: “I think you should honour how this post harmfully triggers many of us. I understand you’re trying to educate but I think there’s a better way than this.”

Yeah…. I’m going to let Judit Saunders field this one and it explains why I feel like stage 4 patients should be given a pass to slapping people: 

 SO, let me digest what you just said? Because a FACTUAL STATISTIC that many women face as their REALITY is “triggering” & hard to digest we should silence & simply erase any evidence that it exists??? Let that sink in…What in the actual bloody fuck is happening??!! We have regressed this badly with the division between the ebc and metastatic community?? Now, when I’ve been advocating for this disease since having my own metastatic recurrence I feel as though I am fighting for these ill informed-pull-the-wool-over-my-eyes-i-need-to-be-sheltered-by-reality-or-else-I’m-sad population & they have zero clue how our actions may one day save THEIR lives!

And

Did anyone not think that maybe if this disease wasn’t deadly then all you early stagers over there popping your Ativan due to being “triggered” wouldn’t be fearful anymore because people would no longer die? Just stop and THINK about it. THINK…EMPATHIZE…and then THINK about it some more. I don’t know how to make this more understandable. I don’t know how to make it clearer?! I have plenty of early stage friends who get it and stand united with the MBC community, but then when comments propagate to try to shut the MBC community up…ya, you’ve picked the wrong gal for that because I am done. Respect is earned and it’s a two way street. However, many comments simply want us to stop talking about it. We need to hide under a rock and just die apparently or else we have caused people to feel “triggered.” Hypocrisy at it’s finest… Ignorance at it’s peak… Stupidity in it’s lowest form.

See? Don’t you agree that Judit should be able to slap people? Read more of her righteous rant here.

I get being absolutely scared out of my mind of the idea of a recurrence. I get that. Sometimes that fear has paralyzed me, and it’s probably one of the main reasons I got my tush into counseling. It’s a lot. How-the-freak-ever, I still have a heart and the ability to empathize, and I would NEVER tell anyone with stage 4 to stop speaking their truth because they’re doin’ me a frighten. How inconsiderate do you have to be to think that’d ever be okay?

“Excuse me, ma’am. I know you’re a young mother with three young children, but could you please stop talking about your terminal diagnosis? It’s really bumming me out.”

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Just because you don’t like a statistic or a statistic scares you, doesn’t mean that the statistic goes away if you ignore it. Nope, still there. Deal with your fear, shut up, or at least think about what words will come out of your mouth next. Might I recommend therapy?

6. I wish for more people to know that MAMMOGRAMS DO NOT SAVE LIVES. They detect cancer. That’s it. There is no evidence that mammograms have saved lives.

An August 6, 2005 article in The BMJ reported that a US case control study showed that “Breast cancer screening in “real world” situations is not effective in preventing mortality.” The author of the study found, “We observed no appreciable association between breast cancer mortality and screening history, [regardless of age or risk level].”

Nine years later, a February 12, 2014 Reuters article reported that, “A new study has added to growing evidence that yearly mammogram screenings do not reduce the chance that a woman will die of breast cancer and confirms earlier findings that many abnormalities detected by these X-rays would never have proved fatal, even if untreated.” The study, which studied 89,835 women aged 40 to 59 over a 25-year period and was published in the British Medical Journal, “found no reduction in breast cancer mortality from mammography screening . . .  Neither in women aged 40-49 at study entry nor in women aged 50-59.”

I am not saying that anybody should stop getting mammograms. There’s no really other way to get your screening. What I am saying is that we need to see mammograms detect cancer – that’s it.  Mammograms do not save lives.

7. I wish for everyone to realize that early detection does not always mean you “beat cancer.” There are so many women whose breast cancer was caught early stages who went onto become metastatic. It’s not about when you catch the breast cancer, it’s about the tumor biology.

Catching breast cancer early surely does help, but it is not a guarantee that your cancer will never come back metastatic. I personally know many women whose breast cancer was caught early stage and who later were diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. Some of those women have since died.

An estimated 20 to 30 percent who were diagnosed early stage will be later diagnosed with metastatic breast cancer. However, we don’t know the exact numbers because Surveillance, Epidemiology and End Results (SEER) does not track information pertaining to a metastatic breast cancer recurrence. SEER tracks those who were diagnosed Stage 4 right off the bat (aka de novo). The Metastatic Breast Cancer Network explains it this way:

My friend Shirley was diagnosed with early-stage breast cancer in 1991. Her cancer came back 12 years later—she has been living with Stage IV breast cancer for the past 13 years. For statistical purposes, Shirley and other patients like her are tallied as successfully treated for early-stage breast cancer. Only upon their deaths will they be counted as metastatic breast cancer patients.

The 20 to 30 percent statistic could be higher or lower, I can’t say for certain. If I had to guess, I would say the stat is probably much higher. I do know that until we know all the data, how could we ever say for certainty that early detection saves lives when we don’t know what happens to the woman 7 or 15 years later?

See here for more information.

8. I wish for everyone I know to understand why I don’t call myself a survivor or say I beat this, especially now that I know I have a genetic mutation. I’m NED (no evidence of disease) but my body works against me. I don’t see this as a battle or a fight. This is my body, and this is what it does.

I recently wrote about my mutant diagnosis here.

I want to say fuck you to anyone who wants me to see the positive in what’s a very much negative situation. There’s no putting lipstick on this pig. Let me say this very clearly – I’m allowed to feel angry and sad. If my anger and dark mood makes you feel uncomfortable and icky on the inside, those are your feelings to manage. Not mine. I don’t have to put a fake smile on my face to make anyone feel comfortable.

I looked into a crystal ball, y’all, and all I saw were a never-ending parade of doctors visits, MRIs, surgeries, and whatever medical procedure is necessary to keep me upright. Why can’t we let sucky things just suck? It’s okay. I’d be a robot if I could be given this diagnosis, put a smile on my face, and go, “It’s okay, but things happen for a reason?”

I have no desire to be anyone’s inspiration porn, and my anger isn’t an invitation for any pity, as well. I’m not feeling sorry for myself. I am acknowledging my feelings, and right now, those feeling are pretty much anger and despair.

9. Finally, and this is a special wish because I used to believe I’d be gone by the time I was 40 like my mother – I wish for continued good health for as many years as I can and to never ever take it for granted while I have it.

 

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Things that make me go rage in the night

It’s not even October yet, and I’m already dreading the upcoming pink-washing assault. I despise with a passion of a thousand fiery suns the following phrases: save the ta-tas, save the boobies or save second base.  I am pretty sure if I ever saw someone wearing a t-shirt or some kind of apparel with those phrases on it, I might have a rage stroke.  That’d be it for me.  Dunzo.

Here lies Lara.  Her rage caused her to burst into flames.

When it comes to breast cancer, screw the ta-tas, boobies or second base.  The focus should be removing the cancer from the woman’s body, and oftentimes that means a single or double mastectomy.   You know – not saving the breasts.

After all of my doctors recommended to me at my one-year checkup to have a double mastectomy because it looked like my cancer was attempting a come-back, I didn’t look at them and say, “No, I don’t accept your recommendations.  You figure out a way to save my breasts.   You hear me, doctor?  Whatever it takes, and I mean whatever, you save my breasts!”

Hell no.  I gave them one shot when I had an initial lumpectomy, but that turned out to not be enough.  I didn’t want to have a double mastectomy (though who does?).  I sobbed the night before my surgery.  I asked my doctors repeatedly if this was the right decision to make.   It’s a shitty situation to find yourself in, to have to decide to surgically remove a body part.  I felt I had no choice but to have this surgery, and it destroyed me.  If it was between me and my breasts, then of course I’m going to pick my life.

Since I had a double-mastectomy, does that mean I failed?  Does that mean I am less than a woman since I technically don’t have breasts anymore, although I do have fake ones?  Where’s the “It’s Okay You had a Double Mastectomy” awareness campaign?   Where’s the “Free Side Hugs because you had a Double Mastectomy” campaign?   Someone needs to start a “It’s okay – you’re still beautiful after a Mastectomy” campaign.  I know, I know.  Not catchy enough.  Come on, Huffman.  Think!

These cutesy or provocative slogans are offensive to me because they reduce women to a single body part – our breasts.   The body part that could very well mean our death.   It gives the clear message that the focus should be on saving our ability to be sexually attractive to the opposite sex.  I did have a guy, some friend of a friend, ask me, “Did they save it all?” after I said that I was undergoing treatment for breast cancer.

His question floored me, so of course I had to berate him for saying something so stupid and offensive. “Save it all?  You mean my breasts?  Wow…  Wow, congratulations.  You’re the first person to ask me something so incredibly offensive and just weird.”   The guy sputtered and left me alone, rightfully so.

If someone is reading this and thinking, “Lighten up.  If it raises awareness, then who cares how it’s done?”

Well, I care.  This disease took my mother’s life, and it has left me forever scarred.  Why should I have to forfeit my dignity for the sake of awareness?     Breast cancer can take your breasts, your hair, your sex drive and/or your life.  It’s a deadly disease that claims approximately 40,000 lives each year, but time and time again, the focus is about saving our sexual desirability.  Fuck that noise.

Seriously don’t mess with me.

Also, why can’t people say breasts?  It’s always boobs, ta-tas, jugs, hooters, rack, boobies, etc.   Dear goodness, I had breast cancer – I did not have boobie cancer.  “What type of cancer did you have, Lara?”  “I had stage-one boobie cancer.”  Lolwut?  A family member close to The Boyfriend just died of prostate cancer.  He didn’t have wiener cancer.   Seriously, can we discuss a disease with a sense of integrity and maturity?

For four years now, I’ve been waiting for someone to really explain to me how shirts like these increase awareness for breast cancer in the first place.  To me, they just raise awareness to the fact that women have breasts.

One of the slogans I have never understood was “save second base.”  Why is it even appropriate to use a slang term for getting felt up, because that’s what second base means, and use it for breast cancer awareness campaigns?  “Let’s save all the boobies so a woman can always get felt up!”  After my double mastectomy, I have zero feeling in my chest, so second base has been crossed off for me.  You know what, though?   Screw second base – hit a triple or just run home.    There, problem solved.

Besides, how is wearing a shirt that says “Save the Hooters” increasing awareness for anything?   How does a men’s shirt offering to check ‘em for you fight the good fight?  Oh, this one is my personal favorite – a “funny” breast cancer awareness shirt for men.  (Yeah, dude.  Breast cancer is a riot.  I laughed all the way to the chemo ward.)  Or how does a men’s shirt telling us to SAVE MOTORBOATING help a patient undergoing chemo?  It doesn’t, obviously, but it apparently challenges young men to try to think of the most offensive breast cancer awareness stunts, like this one.  You know, because boobs.

The reality of it is that these campaigns are the result of folks wanting to make tons of money by selling T-shirts by vaguely saying money is going to a “good cause.”

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A November 26, 2012 Post-Tribune article reported that a marketing presentation from the for-profit company, Boobies Rock! (gross), put its “gross revenues for 2011 at about $1.1 million with net revenues of $400,000 and unspecified ‘total commitments’ at just over $250,000.”   The following year, a July 8, 2013 9News.com article stated that Adam Shryock, used “Boobies Rock! profits to buy a BMW, subscribe to online dating service friendfinder.com, and even pay bar tabs and Molly Maids cleaning service bill.”  The article also reported that “some breast cancer charities supposedly ‘partnered’ with Boobies Rock! Received donations as small as $100.”

Yeah.

Breast cancer isn’t a joke, and what I and so many others have been through isn’t funny.    It’s time we start taking a life-threatening disease seriously and showing respect and compassion to those who are currently going through or have been through treatment.