Pinktober from a Teal Point of View
October has become the month that strikes fear in the hearts of many. Not just because it’s the time of year we have to start paying for heat again, but because of the spectacular and pervasive marketing efforts of the Susan G. Komen Foundation and thousands of copycat hangers-on digging for your sympathy dollars.
And I’ll admit this right off the bat: I’m jealous. I’ve been fighting ovarian cancer for four and a half years (started Stage IIIc but now I’m Stage IV), and I’m starting to think that despite the best efforts of dozens of industry-leading researchers and doctors at one of the top cancer facilities in the country, I’m not going to win.
National Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month is September. Every year. Did you know that? Do you know that teal is the color of t-shirts, silicone bracelets, and ribbon pins worn by those observing Ovarian Cancer Awareness Month? If you did, you’re in the minority. Ovarian cancer is the ugly stepchild of women’s cancers: it’s not in a body part that’s sexy, like boobs; it’s not easy to detect, like feeling a lump, and it’s damn hard to treat, like 65% fail rate.
That’s right – if ovarian cancer is found in the early stages, when the tumors are the size of peppercorns, it is nearly completely treatable. But when it’s found in later stages, with tumors the size of (insert the name of your favorite citrus fruit here), it’s fatal within five years in 65% of women. Not only that, but the majority of cases are found late, the main reason being that the symptoms are so ambiguous and frequently misdiagnosed.
I spend September beating the bushes, blogging about symptoms and awareness, and talking to strangers about my story and how surprisingly common it is, scanning publications for the slightest mention of OC Awareness Month, thanking my lucky stars for Andie McDowell’s PSA on Lifetime, and Kelly Ripa’s campaigns with QVC and Electrolux. My fellow OC patients set up tables at community craft fairs and in church basements, handing out symptom cards and trying to drum up a little recognition for the magnitude of this disease.
It’s a bit like being the opening act for the opening act for U2: no one’s really paying attention – they’re just waiting for the big guns to show up. Because before September is even over, stores are filled with pink merchandise. Magazines fill editorial pages, poignant survivor stories and photo spreads with breast cancer awareness. We’re swept off the surface of the earth by the waves of pink.
It’s not as if ovarian cancer awareness isn’t as important as breast cancer awareness; many of us would argue that it’s more so. While 200,000 American women will be diagnosed with breast cancer in a year, and 40,000 will die from it (a too-high rate of 20%), 21,000 American women will be diagnosed with ovarian cancer, and 13,000 will die from it (a staggering rate of 61%). And the last time I checked, women with breasts also had ovaries, which become even more at-risk for cancer once they’ve been diagnosed with breast cancer. Do you know what the symptoms are?
- Persistent abdominal bloating
- A feeling of fullness or not being able to eat
- Persistent diarrhea, constipation, or bowel changes
- Pelvic or abdominal pain
- Frequent urges to urinate
There are ovarian cancer patients who are misdiagnosed for years by doctors who assume their symptoms are IBS, depression, or hypochondria, and prescribe antacids, anti-anxiety meds, or rest, and pat them on their little heads and send them out the door. There are patients who ignore their symptoms for months or years, assuming it’s weight gain, or lack of sleep, or too much fiber. You can’t tell me a little more awareness wouldn’t help.
There’s no “good” cancer: not lymphoma, not melanoma, not DCIS. Cancer is horrible, the treatments are often worse than the disease they are trying to destroy; having to prematurely confront your mortality and the devastating effects it can have on your relationships and your psyche is a punishment no one is evil enough to deserve. But on any given day as an ovarian cancer patient, with a five-year survival rate of less than 35%, it’s not hard to be jealous of the breast cancer patients with their potential for cure. Which we mostly don’t get. Ever.
So aside from pinkwashing consumer products and Walks For Whomever being pretty lousy ways to drum up funds for research; aside from the ubiquitous ribbons fooling people into thinking they’re doing some good in the “War On Cancer” that’s been failing miserably for forty years; aside from it distracting attention from preventing cancer by forcing corporations and governments to clean up toxic chemicals and environmental hazards, Pinktober overlooks the fact that there are other, deadlier forms of cancer in the world that could use some of the Pink Juggernaut’s P.R. clout and donation dollars.
It’s insane that there’s any competition at all between colors and body parts and the organizations that work to fund research looking for cures. In the absence of the kumbaya/world peace global generosity that clearly isn’t coming any time soon, I just want to point out that sick is sick, all cancer sucks, and to devote an entire month to fighting just one ridiculously unjust medical diagnosis is pretty closed-minded.
For more information on ovarian cancer, its symptoms, and how you can help, visit www.ocna.org or www.ovationsforthecure.org. For more pith and vinegar from me, visit www.carcinista.com.
© 2010 The Carcinista.