Friday, October 1, 2010

Putting the Aware in Breast Cancer Awareness Month

So, as the festival now known as Breast Cancer Awareness Month begins, I'm wondering:

Who on this big blue planet is still not aware of breast cancer?  I'm guessing somewhere deep in the Amazon, a monkey has tied a pink ribbon to a tree in honor of October.

Do we still need an entire month dedicated to "awareness?"  And what, exactly, are these awareness programs supposed to do?  Aside from, you know, making you "aware."


Are you aware?  Well,  you are because you are reading my blog.  Good for you.

So, let's talk about your neighbor.  Does your neighbor know anything about breast cancer?  

Anything at all?

I'll bet that guy who doesn't water his lawn has no clue that there are dozens of different types of breast cancer, all with different characteristics, disease processes and treatments.  

That lady who leaves the paper on her porch for days?  She has no idea that breast cancer comes in stages but the staging isn't a promise.  She doesn't know how fickle breast cancer is - that someone with metastatic cancer can live for ten years, but a person with a small, stage one cancer can be be diagnosed with mets a year later and die within four months.

I'll bet that high school kid with the I heart boobies bracelet has no understanding that breast reconstruction ends up looking nothing like a boob job.  Or a boob.

Do you think the guy out working on his car realizes that there is no "race for the cure" for those Stage IV ladies, because they aren't going to make it to the finish line? 

Does grandma with her little barking dogs know anything about the BRCA gene, oncotypes, ER/PR or the Bloom Richardson scale?

Do you think that the Pink Awareness campaign makes any of this clear?

I don't.  I know this is truth because I've lived it.  Until I was diagnosed, I didn't know anything more about breast cancer than it was "breast cancer."  I thought if it was caught early, you lived, and if it was caught late, you died.

I've come a long way, baby, but it had nothing to do with the month of October.  Before my own diagnosis, I was as ignorant as the cute little MILF's who are jogging down your street in their Juicy Couture, ponytails bouncing behind their pink visors.  Like them, I thought cancer was cancer and a cure was coming.  Of course, you know me, I'd never actually run, but I bought my pink soup, thinking I was doing cancer victims a solid.

I know better now.  You can't cure breast cancer because breast cancer isn't one disease.

So, how do we solve the problem of awareness?  (That question can only be asked if we agree that people ignorant about the details of breast cancer is problematic - not one I'm willing to concede, but I'll play along.)

Maybe it would help awareness if companies would name products after types of breast cancer.

Think of the possibilities!  Keebler could make HER2+ cookies that crumble faster than all the rest. Scotts could make Triple Negative lawn seed that just keeps reproducing everywhere.  Maglight could come out with IBC flashlights - they burn bright and hot when turned on.  Or, maybe ADT could produce an ILC alarm system, which is undetectable for years.  Kleenex could get in on the action by making Mucinous-branded tissue.

Of course, it could get complicated.   What if your HER2+ cookie is USDA Grade 3? You'd end up with a bag of unrecognizable, moldy crumbs.

Living in a media and celebrity saturated culture, perhaps we should get celebrities involved in the awareness campaign.  In fact, I propose a campaign featuring Lynne Redgrave.....oh....wait.  

Wrong message. 

Seems to me like most companies jump on the breast cancer awareness campaign not to make you aware of breast cancer, but to make you aware that they have products to sell you. 

I don't begrudge money going to cancer research, and I don't mind the races and fund-raisers by people wanting to help - but the big October marketing campaign, with pink Dyson vacuums and pink Chi flat-irons, and pink products and ribbons in every store is very hard on many women who are living with and dying of this disease.

A lot of people think breast cancer victims are grateful for pink October. The fact is, many women with breast cancer find Pink October a constant reminder of a painful time in their lives.

I thought you should be aware of that.



  1. Go check I personally think pinktober should be abolished. There is a big disconnect between those with a particular disease and then with those who get it. You don't care until you get the disease. Or someone close to you does.

    I hate pinktober.

  2. Thank you for a very honest and informative blog entry. I learned alot I didn't know. A very good friend is going through radiation, (just finished chemo) she was stage 1. Thank you for helping me help her.

  3. Yep, you are right. I just really cannot handle a pink Dyson. Breast cancer is not a neat little package to boost October sales figures. But I guess the pink month of October is now part of our culture and it is not going to go away any time soon. The Komen Race For The Cure is in downtown Denver tomorrow and while I really admire the sentiment, I personally cannot handle going down there and "celebrating" breast cancer. Thanks for mentioning IBC. Inflammatory Breast Cancer does not get much attention and many women still only look for lumps.

    You have a great blog. I am one of your daily readers.

  4. love your analogy of cookies - I guess my grade 3 Her2+++ IBC would be burnt mouldy crumbs. Like Joanne I am glad you mentioned IBC.
    I dont like the over commercialisation of breast cancer awareness but I have noticed that the NZBCF is moving away from calling it awareness and have called this 'Breast Cancer Action Month' and are targetting raising money to support women with breast cancer and research for a cure and awareness. That is something I can get more behind.
    As an IBC fighter/survivor: first diagnosed Aug 2008 remission April 2009, regional recurrence October 2009, and back to remission May 2010, I will wear my ' no they're not real t-shirt - the real ones tried to kill me' or other similar survivor shirts and go to events to raise awareness of IBC in particular. I will also wear my shirts to my uni course, and talk to people about my fight - A) to remind them that behind all the pinkness there are real people fighting the disease and B) to educate people that you can get breast cancer that doesn't show up on mammograms and can develop without a lump as IBC is relatively unknown here in New Zealand. I sure didnt know it existed til I got it

  5. Excellent post. I think you nailed it in terms of where my head is with all of this. And you are right, October has just become a month of painful reminders. I must have cried at least three times last week for no apparent reason other than being really p-ed off about having breast cancer. It's a bit hard being able to keep your feelings in check when everything around you is pinked out and there is an immediate assumption by the average person that you should be eternally grateful for everything that goes on during the month of October.

    Unfortunately, the pink ribbon movement has made the average person so "aware" that they feel like they know everything there is to know about breast cancer and that doing anything pink-ribbon related is enough.

    Well it's not.

  6. Since being diagnosed recently (in July), I have read your entire blog - start to finish. It has been a source of great comfort, more than a few laughs, and lots of valuable information.
    As for this Breast Cancer Awareness month...I have had my surgery and as I await my approaching chemo, I feel smothered by breast cancer - it's everywhere and I hate it! Then I feel guilty because ofcourse it's all for a good cause, just so difficult right now because I am living it and not really feeling up to waving the pink flag quite yet.
    Perhaps next year?

  7. Hi Marg, I'm a year ahead of you but still in treatment. I feel like people should be giving me presents during this month! I've never been a flag waver so I doubt I'll ever support the pink parade. However, I did get help from the American Cancer Society so any money I donate will go to them. As far as I could tell, Komen had no direct patient help - at least, based on my experience. The ACS came to my hospital room!

  8. Excellent. Thank you for telling the truth like this. Brilliant.


    I guess you all know this video and the sequal that followed. I have to say when ever I am feeling down, just like today ,I play this and it really really does.

    I, also ignorant of breast cancer and thought I was doing all the right red meat, did not smoke, the odd glass of wine, slim, yearly mammograms and smear tests...and the bastard sneaked up on me...I am looking for a woman...not any woman but a woman who like me has breast cancer BUT NOT in the breast...if you are interested I shall tell you more.

  10. All these years of pink ribbons and I ended up getting the same chemo drugs this year that my mom got 18 years ago. Yep, that's progress!

  11. I used to really appreciate "pinkober" as my grandmother died of breast cancer, mother and aunt had had breast cancer. These days, I realize not only do we have a long way to go, but all our "awareness" has not really educated us. I thought with self-checks and mammograms and living healthy, that if I got the "family disease" that it would be caught early, I'd get a lumpectomy, and be on my merry way. No one told me there were different kinds of breast cancers and that not all breast cancers have a lump. And even though we have made progress in treatments, we still depend on disfiguring surgeries, toxic chemos, and drugs with miserable side effects. I have since found that the majority of people I know are as ignorant as I was about different kinds and stages of breast cancer. And all the talk about early detection has actually resulted in some people making assumptions that those of us diagnosed with advanced and aggressive cancers were "negligent."
    Inflammatory Breast Cancer stage IV


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