It’s October again! For many that means Halloween movies, pumpkin spice lattes, and pink ribbons for breast cancer awareness. Much to my surprise, my social media feeds have shocked me this October. I’m seeing fewer breast cancer fundraisers, events, profile pictures, even memes and more angry, cynical and seething rants about “pink washing” October. This has struck a nerve so close to my bosom. Please pardon me while I step up onto a giant pink colored soap box. ::ahem::
To the WOMEN who are saying “We get it. We are aware.” I am SMDH. I recently read a post from a friend-of-a-friend who had a double mastectomy about a year and a half ago due to metastatic breast cancer. She is a young, beautiful woman. She wrote, “This isn’t ‘our’ month or an exciting time to be accosted with the color pink. We’ve all been talking about how to deal with it for months now. I’m so entirely disgusted by awareness campaigns and slogans that consume our lives during this time and am so horrified by just how traumatizing and dismissive they are.
Sure, it’s easy to sign up for a walk, to sponsor someone, to buy a “fun” t-shirt or to sport a pink ribbon… but, do you want to know what most women with breast cancer despise?
All. Of. That. Shit.” She continued, “Please don’t sit in your ignorance for one more day — breast cancer is not pink, meaningless “awareness” is NOT the answer …”
First, my gut told me to recognize the struggle this young woman lives daily and honor her current phase of grief she is so obviously pushing thru. But as I thought more and more about it, saw more and more similar posts, I just couldn’t stay quiet (which I will likely regret.) So here I am, looking like the Kermit .gif where he is typing furiously. You know the one.
Let me make my message clear: THERE IS NO SUCH THING AS TOO MUCH or “MEANINGLESS” AWARENESS.
Here is the personal testimony part of this post: Rewind just a couple of months. My aunt goes in for her annual check-up with her PCP. The doctor notes that she will be ready for her annual mammogram in about 3 months. The doctor decides to send the orders in for the mammo while my aunt is there to avoid coming back in three months. Fast forward through a lot of anxiety, fear, and painful tests. BOOM. She has stage 1, phase 1 breast cancer – needing a speedy mastectomy.
[I pause right here to ask, “How many of you reading this are AWARE of the different cancer stages AND phases?” Yeah, I didn’t know the difference between them either until I became painfully AWARE.]
As a Christian, I call the next part “a God thing.” My aunt asked me to come with her to her initial consult with the breast surgeon at the Tansey Breast Center here in New Orleans. Her generous doctor spent an hour and half going over her options AND took the time to put my basic stats into the risk calculator currently being used (Tyrer-Cuzick model). Here is where my life changed. Dr. Mackey said, “Oh, yep. Looks like you are high-risk. You probably should make an appointment with our geneticist.” Me? I’m 35! I thought I didn’t have to worry about this until I was 40?!
I was NOT AWARE, people. I had no idea that the “cancer clusters” in my distant family tree were so meaningful. I was NOT AWARE that my Dad’s prostate cancer played a role in my risk for breast cancer! I was NOT AWARE that my first pregnancy occurring after 30 increased my risk for breast cancer. I was NOT AWARE that starting my period before 12 increased my risk for breast cancer. I was NOT AWARE that I should be asking about my risk under 40!
I was NOT AWARE that I am clinically high risk for breast cancer. I was NOT AWARE that I need to be doing breast MRIs every six months! (You read that right, MRIs. Because I am under 40, my breast tissue is dense so mammograms and ultrasounds are not effective.) I get to take a ride in the “boob tube”, as I have come to call it. Every. Six. Months. – I’ll pause so you can add up the cost of those screenings and let that figure sink in. – I get to do this for the rest of my life or until my breast tissue changes.
I was also NOT AWARE that as a premenopausal-under-40-woman I couldn’t just ask my doctor to order a mammo “just to be safe.” I was NOT AWARE that it would be a fight to get insurance to cover my ride in the boob tube, especially since it was medically necessary. I was NOT AWARE.
How can someone – me – who knows people in her family only die from cancer or heart disease have so much UNAWARENESS? Because new research comes out frequently and treatment protocols change with knowledge. It is SO important to keep the cancer conversation open with your doctors or start a conversation about your risk if you haven’t already. THAT is what awareness campaigns are about. They are never meaningless.
And to the men who may be reading this: Have you considered YOUR risk for breast cancer? According to the American Cancer Society, about 1 out of 5 men with breast cancer have a close relative, male or female, with the disease. I would love to see some statics on how many men are AWARE they should doing self-breast examines. As awkward as it may be, guys, ask ya momma ‘nem about their examine results. A.) She’s your Momma and she would be tickled you care. B.) Those results affect you too!
So I repeat, there is no such thing as “meaningless awareness.” Every story shared, every charity funding research/scholarships/fellowships, every “fun run”, every chance to meet and support survivors, every breast cancer commercial, every football player wearing pink gloves, every witty slogan, every freakin’ pink ribbon makes a difference. If it starts one conversation, causes one person to make that doctor’s appointment, spawns one new research project on the disease, the “pink washing” is worth it.
Please excuse me as I step off my pink soap box. I have to put my pink #PreVivor t-shirt in the wash.