Saturday, December 25, 2010

Festive Wishes To You All

Wishing You All A Very Merry Christmas 

And Happiness And Health in 2011

Me and my little blog mascot will be back in 2011 
with even more feisty attitude and sass.

Thanks for all your interest, support 
and all your fantastic comments this year.  

I look forward to another year of ranting and raving 
with you all right by my side.

Much love, peace and happiness to you all,

Anna and The Small Needy Dog 

P.S.  I hope you didn't find this touching little gift pack under your Christmas Tree

Sunday, December 19, 2010

Pink Boob Awards Gallery Relaunch

Given that the end of the year is fast approaching I thought it a good time to review my blog posts of the past year.  After reviewing my little "Stats" tool, to which I'm completely and unhealthily addicted, it seems that some of my more popular posts were those where I displayed and discussed the more heinous and/or tacky examples of pink ribbon and breast cancer awareness products that are so ubiquitous now, particularly in the U.S.

Her Name?
"A Vision of Hope". BARF!
My love affair with writing these kinds of posts probably stems from Christmas a couple of years ago, when I received as a gift from a well-meaning relative, this vomitous little "breast cancer awareness" figurine at left.  Talk about traumatic! If you're interested, you can read my my full reaction to this gift in the post entitled "The Adventures of Pink Lady: Part I".  It represents my first foray into this kind of a rant, and also explains why I think these kinds of products are simply a marketing scam foisted upon the unsuspecting good spirit of humanity, all in the name of corporate profits dressed up as breast cancer altruism.

I remember at the time, after opening the box, not knowing whether to laugh or cry.  Firstly,  the figurine was marked as being the first in a series, which possibly meant I was going to receive the rest of the series at some point. Arrrgggh!  And secondly,  I couldn't believe that someone actually thought that buying this gift for me was a good idea.   Thirdly, what I was going to say to the well-meaning relative?  I mean what do you say?  Thanks? And thanks for reminding me that I have breast cancer?  And by the way, this doesn't make me feel better?   (I think I completely chickened out of this potentially teachable moment and just muttered thanks, biting down on my tongue. Very hard!).

However, I knew instantly that I needed to keep this gift because it reminds me of all that is wrong with pink ribbon culture, and inspires me everyday to keep writing this blog.  So I put her in my dining room cabinet where she has become quite the dinner party conversation piece and the best excuse I can think of to get on my soapbox to rant about awful pink ribbon products.  I also keep her there in case the well-meaning relative ever visits my house.  Gulp !

Many months later, still feeling completely enraged by the plethora of pink ribbon tat that assaulted my senses everywhere I looked,  I halfheartedly launched something called "The Pink Boob Awards".  Readers sent me their examples, and I posted them to a not-very-exciting list on my blog.  And there the list sat, periodically updated, whenever I found another particularly foul example.  It became clear to me that it was going to be hard to pick a winner, because there were just so many to choose from.  So I just didn't.
Cleaning products and breast cancer.  Hmmmm.

Anyway fast forward to today, with more and more images starting to fill my little desktop picture folder  I realized that I needed to find a better way to preserve and display these images for posterity.  So today, readers I give you the Pink Boob Awards Gallery, featuring the best of the worst pink ribbon and breast cancer awareness stuff as judged by me.  This will be an ongoing feature and can be accessed from the right sidebar at any time.

So please bring me your ridiculous, bring me your egregious, bring me your distasteful and bring me your downright nauseating, and if I think it fits the bill, I'll add it to the Pink Boob Awards Gallery for all to see.

Email me your Pink Boob Awards Gallery nominations to,  and it would be great if you could also include an Internet link to the original image source.

Thursday, December 16, 2010

The Well Trodden Path

Today I had the great privilege of being the featured guest post on the wonderful Journeying Beyond Breast Cancer blog.  A couple of weeks ago, Marie, who is the author of JBBC, had requested guest blog submissions from women dealing with metastatic breast cancer.  I decided to give this writing assignment a go, despite some misgivings as to whether I would be able to manage it.

As a follower of my blog, you may have noticed that I tend not to talk about my own experience in too much gory detail.  I generally prefer to write about my observations of the popular breast cancer culture and how my experience fits around that.  But I decided that it was important to step outside of my comfort zone and write an honest account of what goes through my head on a daily basis in dealing with this disease.  It was a difficult exercise because it forced me to confront and articulate my many fears in a way that I am not used to doing.  After deliberating with the post for many days, I decided to take a deep breath and just go ahead and submit it.  Shortly after,  JBBC informed me that my post had been selected for publication.

And so I took another deep breath and laid myself bare for all the world to see.

Please click here to read my post entitled "The Well Trodden Path"


Monday, December 13, 2010

Confronting Tragedy In The Age of Social Media

I know the following post is a drastic change in style from my last blog post, but that's how I roll.  I never really know what I'm going to feel like writing until the moment strikes and the events of this past week have certainly contributed to the grist for this post.

This past week saw the sudden passing of a dear old friend from an inoperable brain tumor.  I hadn't seen him for quite some time, but we had kept up with each other's movements through mutual friends and had traded emails from time to time, filling each other in on the details of our lives.  Apparently he had become ill whilst at work, and two weeks later he was gone.  It was very quick and, by all accounts, took most people by utter surprise.  But that's cancer isn't it?  It sneaks up on you when you least expect it and with no apparent logic as to who it is going to take next and when. The world is certainly an emptier place with the loss of this gorgeous amazing man, and his passing seemed to be a culminating moment in  a week where it seemed everything was about death, no matter where I turned.

I first became aware that my friend was ill via another friend on Facebook, and then on Friday I received an email from yet another friend who said she had some bad news.  When I googled my old friend's name, I was confronted with his obituary notice on a funereal portal site of sorts, where one could log in with their Facebook profile, find all of the funeral details, leave a message for the family, light a virtual candle and shop for flowers to send to the family.  One could also build a family tree and  a perpetual tribute website for the departed all for the bargain price of some low monthly fee.  It seems that most funeral homes are now associated with a funeral portal of some type, and this isn't the first time I have seen these online tributes being offered to mourners. At first I felt a little uncomfortable with the concept, but ultimately,  I think my friend would appreciate the messages that were left for him, and when they are ready, I'm sure his family will find some solace in being able to read all of the tributes left for this wonderful gentleman.

But it did all get me thinking.  How important has social media become in dealing with death in our society?

Earlier, this last week, I accidentally stumbled upon a breast cancer blog, where, literally, a woman's dying moments were being broadcast and recorded for posterity.  From what I could gather, the lady was in the hospital and was dictating to her sister who would record it on her blog or she would send a text message, which her sister would then transcribe to the site.  It was a very strange moment for me and I felt almost ashamed that here I was, seemingly lurking on the site, intruding on this, the most sacred of life's moments.  (To avoid any issues of rubbernecking you'll understand that I don't feel comfortable identifying the site, and I don't think it would serve any purpose to do so at this point anyway.  The woman in question had passed away by the end of the week).

Today it seems that living and dying, with cancer in particular, has become a public affair.  We blog about it, we tweet about it, and we post updates on Facebook for all to see. In the world of cancer blogging, "tombstone blogs" abound; those that abruptly end with  a post from a relative informing the world of the author's passing, or just nothing at all and only our assumptions as to the fate of our virtual compadre'.  There are even Facebook pages for those that have passed on.  A dear friend of mine who died two years ago from pancreatic cancer, still has an active Facebook page administered by her sisters, where her friends still go to post messages.  A sort of virtual graveyard where one can go to peacefully converse with the departed, in a way that almost feels tangible.

Indeed, this week participants in the social media collectively grieved with the news of  the passing of Elizabeth Edwards, attorney, author, health care activist and ex-wife of wannabe presidential candidate, John Edwards.    Mrs. Edwards was diagnosed with advanced-stage breast cancer in 2004, which then metastasized in 2007 and had been living with the disease ever since.  After it was announced to the world by her family, that she had stopped receiving treatment for her cancer, this message, ostensibly her last words to the world, appeared on her Facebook status:

"You all know that I have been sustained throughout my life by three saving graces – my family, my friends, and a faith in the power of resilience and hope. These graces have carried me through difficult times and they have brought more joy to the good times than I ever could have imagined. The days of our lives, for all of us, are numbered. We know that. And, yes, there are certainly times when we aren't able to muster as much strength and patience as we would like. It's called being human.
But I have found that in the simple act of living with hope, and in the daily effort to have a positive impact in the world, the days I do have are made all the more meaningful and precious. And for that I am grateful. It isn't possible to put into words the love and gratitude I feel to everyone who has and continues to support and inspire me every day. To you I simply say: you know."

The next day, the world was informed that Mrs Edwards had died.  The outpouring of emotion on Twitter, Facebook, the blogs, and the many online articles that appeared after her death was overwhelming.  Although virtually none could have claimed to have had a personal relationship with Mrs. Edwards, it seemed like her death was a polarizing moment of sorts, especially in the online breast cancer community.   Many waxed lyrical over a life lived with "grace and dignity" and of a "peaceful death at home surrounded by family and friends".  Now we can't really know the truth about the circumstances of her death, whether she was in pain, whether she had accepted her fate, or even whether she was aware until the very end, but as a virtual group of "sisters"all dealing with breast cancer, we took comfort in knowing that she seemed to finally be at peace after a "brave and courageous" fight against metastatic breast cancer.

To me, although obviously a sad moment, her death was more of a stark and tragic reminder that breast cancer is not the "chronic disease" that many in the cancer industry and medical fraternity would have us believe.  Mrs. Edwards' death simply bought into focus, for me, the lottery-like nature of this disease.  After she was diagnosed in 2004, the same year as me, her cancer returned in 2007, like me.  Whilst I'm certain that we both had access to all that the medical profession has to offer in terms of treatment,  I've just simply been "luckier" with my disease than Mrs. Edwards,  in that I'm still here. Although treatments proliferate, even for Stage IV, their efficacy is uncertain, and what can work for one patient won't for another, for no clearly identifiable reason other than what I can only term as "dumb luck".  At that's what makes me mad when I think about her death.  That yet again, another woman has to die from this stupid disease because we can't figure out how to stop it.  We can spend all the money in the world on breast cancer education and awareness campaigns, but this didn't help Mrs. Edwards one iota, and nor does it help the hundreds of thousands of people currently living with metastatic breast (and other) cancer.  We just have to do better on this score.

And in some ways that's why I'm thankful for the advances in computing technology that have given us the tools of social media.  Because the existence of social media is keeping cancer in the public eye in a way that is confronting and personal, and in a way that reminds us all, that cancer can strike anyone and at any time.  Cancer doesn't discriminate. Mrs. Edward's' death and the collective online coverage and dissemination of grief clearly displayed a personal reaction that went far beyond that which a simple newsprint obituary would have evoked.  Indeed, I felt incredibly sad that yet another woman had died from this disease, but I was almost guiltily glad that her fame and celebrity, and associated online persona was bringing much-needed attention to the fact that metastatic breast cancer is for many, a fait accompli, to which death is the final outcome, despite the proliferation of treatments and the very best in medical care.  And it is from this perspective, that I hope for myself and the many other women dealing with this insidious disease,  that the public won't soon forget exactly what it means to be diagnosed with breast cancer.  Mrs Edward's death should serve as a call to action to do better in the fight to combat and eradicate this disease and we must keep talking about it and using social media to keep the message never far from the public consciousness.

For those of us living with cancer and other serious illness, social media has allowed us to connect as a giant virtual support group where we find like-minded individuals and where we are able to shout our frustrations to the universe without judgement.  We can find information at a moments notice and count on the fact that someone will always be there who's going through exactly the same thing.  Even though we generally never meet these virtual compadres or form a relationship beyond our online forums, discussion threads, blog comments, twitter feeds or Facebook pages,  there's something incredibly powerful in being part of a group mindset, in dealing with emotions and challenges of catastrophic illness.  Although many of us come with completely different viewpoints, different strategies for coping, and some come simply to read and ponder, whilst others are motivated to activism of some sort, there is comfort in knowing that you are not alone.  In fact Chemobabe in her latest post entitled "Good Company" articulates why we have this innate need to seek each other out  when she said:
"We survivors need each other. We live in an emotional reality that might be conceptualized but not fully understood by others who are outside of our experience, no matter how much they love us. It is often a lonely place."
Ultimately, living and dying in the age of social media may seem incomprehensible, and even abhorrent to some. But it does serve a purpose, especially for those dealing with serious illness.  Feelings of isolation and inherent loneliness are common problems - often it's easier to write about what's going on than it is to talk with close relatives or friends, and there is certainly therapeutic value to be gained from being able to honestly articulate what you are feeling by shouting anonymously to the universe.  You are being heard and you are not insignificant.

And this is why I think the dying lady felt the need to blog her final moments to the world.  Because she wanted to remind the world that she still mattered.  And that she still had something to say.  And this is also why Elizabeth Edwards chose to publish her final words via her Facebook status.  Because she too, still wanted to be heard.  And that's all any of us want.  Just to be heard.

It's kind of interesting to think that our blogs, Twitter feeds, and Facebook pages stored as binary code and bits and bytes on a server somewhere, may one day become our opus.  In perpetuity, we can continue to be heard.

So my friends, I say to you.  Keep writing.

People just want to be heard

Saturday, December 11, 2010

It's Not Too Late for Breastmas Shopping....More Last Minute Gift Picks !

I was going to post a far more serious blog this week, but I'm still working on it and quite frankly my heart's just not in finishing it right now.  I just received news of an old friend who passed this week and I'm finding it a bit hard to gather my thoughts in any kind of a cohesive manner so the serious breast cancer blogging will just have to wait until I can get it together.

So I'm going back to my old standby for now.  Poking fun at all the pink ribbon crap that's out there.

And with Breastmas just around the corner, it's not too late to pick up a few last minute gifts that say "I'm Aware of Breast Cancer and Merry Breastmas".

So without further ado, here are my last minute suggestions for the breast cancer victim in your life:

1.  Breast Cancer Research Grill Charms.  For all the red meat you should be grilling and eating.  And be sure to get it really good and charcoaly.  And carcinogenic.

Make sure your steak has the pink ribbon grill charm on it
Then there'll be no mistake that you're the  one with breast cancer.  Just in case anyone wasn't sure.

2.  Pink Ribbon Guns.  Okay we've all heard about these, but they're still out there and there's still time to purchase one to put under your Breastmas Tree.  Now feel even better about shooting all those furry little creatures.  Because even though you kill things, you're still aware of breast cancer.  Breast cancer and guns.  A marketing marriage made in heaven to be sure !
Note the beautiful awareness ribbon detail on the top of the gun carriage.
And a portion of the sale proceeds go to a Breast Cancer AWARENESS Charity.  Not  research.  AWARENESS.
I feel even better about purchasing this gun now.
Unfortunately you can't buy this one.  It was custom-made and raffled off for "breast cancer charity" a couple of years ago.  But it's nice to dream, and perhaps if you're very good you can write a letter to Santa Cause and you might find one in your Breastmas stocking next year.
You've got the Breast Cancer Awareness gun.
Now top off your thoughtful gift, with matching breast cancer awareness gun cases.
Because there's nothing like being fully accessorized  at all times.
Look good and feel better because you match !

3.  Pink Ribbon Knife.  If you're going for a theme of breast cancer awareness AND deadly weapons then you can't go past a breast cancer awareness knife for the ideal awesome deadly stocking stuffer.  (Actually I stole this idea from Katie  @ Uneasy Pink but it's a fair trade for the pink garbage truck I gave her a couple of months ago ;).

Good for gutting small furry animals and lancing pesky tumors as well.

4.  Pink Ribbon Archery Arrows.  The cancerous person in your life doesn't like guns ?  No problem !  These arrows will still do the job just as well, and support breast cancer via Susan G. Komen For The Cure.  Oops I said "For the Cure".  Hope I don't find a legal summons in my Breastmas stocking.  But do yourself a favor and buy these arrows and your special cancerous person can kill stuff AND show your fellow hunters that you're "For the Cure".  Oops I said it again.  I can't help myself.  For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure, For the Cure,.......okay I'm done now.


5.  Breast Cancer Awareness Beer Pong Table.  Yes readers, I know.  I hear you swooning already.  Leave it to me to find the ultimate in unique and tasteful Breastmas gifts.  Now you and your loved ones can be aware of breast cancer as you gather around your new Beer Pong Table and indulge in some seriously altruistic binge drinking.  This one actually makes me feel a little teary thinking of all the touching moments you're going to have.  Enjoy !

Seriously, how can your Breast Cancer Awareness philanthropic efforts be complete without this little beauty.

6.  Breast Cancer Awareness Cigarrette Case.  My last gift pick of the Pink Ribbon lighter attracted a lot of attention, and what better way to round off that gift than with a matching cigarrette case.  Now smoke in real Breast Cancer Awareness style.  Be the envy of your smoker friends.  And the most Breast Cancer Aware.
Could also double as a pill box for all your chemotherapy drugs.  Lovely !

Sunday, December 5, 2010

Only 19 Shopping Days Til Breastmas! My Top Gift Picks.

To all my dear readers who've been following along over the last few weeks,  you'll be pleased to know that I have stopped wallowing (for now) and I'm back to my usual business of taking cheap shots at the  surrounding breast cancer culture.

And what better way to kick off December, than to firstly remind you that there are only 19 shopping days until Breastmas.

(Okay okay readers, I know we've been in this territory before, but it's been a rough few weeks so I need to ease myself back into the serious business of breast cancer blogging.  Think of this blog post as a little bit of breast cancer brain candy if you will).

So if you're looking for that special something to share with the cancerous person in your life, well nothing says "Merry Breastmas I love you !" like one of these little gift items:

1.  Breastmas Tree Ornaments.  You can never have too many of these unique and tasteful beauties adorning your Breastmas tree as far as I'm concerned.

Ornament Style 1

I think this one works really well, especially if you're looking to tie in a bladder cancer theme as well in your Breastmas Tree trimming.

Ornament Style 2

This is a nice addition to your Breastmas tree, especially if you're feeling nostalgic for all those needle sticks and chemotherapy.  Note the lovely black and white etching of the tattoo hypodermic. Okay it would have been better if there was a picture of an IV pole attached to a port saying something like "Chemo For A Cure", but sadly that doesn't seem to exist.  Yet.    Ah, *sighs very loudly*,  this one just makes me feel warm and fuzzy all over.

Ornament Style 3

In Breastmas Tree decorating, sometimes less is more.  The design and message ? Simple, poignant and elegant.  Nothing more needs to be said.

2.  Earth-tone 3 in 1 Disease Control Concentrate.  75c from every purchase goes to support the fight against breast cancer !  Now before you go adding this to the Holiday Egg-Nog thinking I've managed to find a cancer cure in a bottle, it's disease control for plants.  Not humans.  But that's okay, the plants sickness is my gain.  Yay for chemical concentrates and yay for breast cancer research !

A Cure in A Bottle !
Lucky Plants !
3. Breast Cancer Awareness Pet Clippers.  I know it's kind of annoying and ironic that you're bald, but you have to give the dog a haircut.  Don't worry, Fido will appreciate the fact that he's helping the cause. And if you feel a little peach fuzz coming in,  just give yourself a once over as well.  I just love a gift that does double duty.  Don't you ?  

Note a bonus hat is included !
Great ! Cover your bald head whilst giving Fido a haircut.

4.  Breast Cancer Awareness Balloon.  Amaze your friends at chemotherapy and  balloon-sculpt a pink ribbon  for everyone.  Fantastic fun for all ages and disease stages.

What else can you make ? A pink giraffe ?
 A pink hat ?  A huge pink sausage ?
5. Pink Ribbon Pepper Spray.  Because even though you've had the misfortune of getting breast cancer, there's always the possibility of a violent crime being committed against you.  Yes, you could really be that unlucky.  Always be prepared, and show that perp who's boss, and who's aware of breast cancer. 

Also very useful when your oncologist starts to get on your nerves.....

6. Pink Ribbon lighter.  Now you too can remember those fighting breast cancer when you light up those cigarettes.  And if you smoke a packet a day, think how many times you'll be aware of  breast cancer.  This is just the gift that keeps on giving.

Or use it to spark up a boobie doobie.
Perfect for the medical marijuana recipient in your  life

If you have any other Breastmas gift ideas that you'd like to add to this list, please email me at and I'll feature over the coming weeks.

Wednesday, December 1, 2010

Moving Forward. Hopefully In A Red Karmann Ghia.

I don't like myself very much right now.  Now this is unusual, because normally I love my own company.  I laugh at my own jokes, I entertain myself in a hundred different ways, I wake up with a zing,  my mind brimming with new ideas and excitement for a new day.  It's never been a case of passing the time but more of a case of where did the time go today ?  But something's changed.  Even the dog, who's normally surgically attached to my feet, doesn't seem to want to be around me, and has taken himself into monastic seclusion under the bed, only coming out for meals and the odd game of "destroy-the-monster-toy".

Who can blame him really though ?  It's no fun when the center of your universe seems completely distracted and otherwise engaged in the deeply dull topic of cancer when all you really want to do is go for a run on the beach, chase some seagulls, and maybe if you're really lucky, roll in some disgustingly smelly unidentified-animal goop.  Now there's a perfect day,  for a belligerent furry little so-and-so who only stands ten inches high, but is pure heart and full of joyous zest for life.  I definitely need some of what he has.

Now before anyone jumps to the medicine cabinet to reach for an easy fix of little blue feel-good pills, I think the problem is this.  Lately, the whole cancer maelstrom feels like it has collided in some kind of perfect storm worthy of a Lifetime Movie script.  My darling husband and I never seem to get a break from having to think about the cancer thing.  In fact someone asked me last week, whether I ever get a moment of clear, pure, joyous, freedom of thought, and honestly right now the answer to that is no.  It just seems like there's always another scan around the corner with slightly worse news each time we go (which is every three months now), decisions to make regarding treatments, adapting to new treatments and their associated side-effects,  and all of the emotions and frustrations that go along with dealing with all of that.  Meanwhile, the people that surround us are just getting on with their lives.  For our peer group, that generally means having babies, planning for  a new home, celebrating children's milestones, advancing in or changing careers, and just getting on with life with all of its normal ups and downs.  Normal ups and downs.  What we wouldn't give to be able to get back to that.

So the question is now, how do we move forward from this latest setback, and keep moving forward ?  Because that's what life's about, isn't it ?  Moving forward.  A trick that we have used in the past and one that worked pretty well, is making sure we always have something to look forward to.  Even though there's no running away from reality to be sure,  having something fun to grab onto can help you get through those tough times.  Well that's my theory anyway.  So readers, here's what's on my list of things I want to have to look forward to.  Even if I can't make them happen at least it's nice to daydream.

Also, before anyone freaks out and thinks that I'm publishing a "Bucket List",  IT'S NOT A BUCKET LIST ! Just things that calm my mind and make me happy.  Okay ?  Moving right along.....

1.  A Tiny House In The Middle of Nowhere.

I am fascinated by thought of living in space smaller than my existing bedroom.  I'm also fascinated by the thought of being out in the middle of nowhere.  Okay, being near a little town would be good, but at least the perception of being in the middle of nowhere would be enough.  How fun to be able to just go and disappear for a few days and live off the grid.    Am I just looking for another reason to run away and not deal with reality ?  Absolutely, if only for a few days.

Not a doctor, medical file, or pink ribbon in sight.  Bliss!
2.  A Vintage Karmann Ghia.

Now I'm the last person to be interested in cars, but for some reason I'm completely obsessed with this car.  In fact someone quite regularly drives one up and down our street to visit one of the neighbors.  Obviously it's complete torture for me and just feeds my obsession.  Not sure where we would keep it but these are just minor details.

Isn't she a beauty ? I would name her Gwendoline.

3.  The Lava Rivers of Hawaii.

I want to stand at the edge of one of those lava rivers and bask in the awesome power and beauty of Mother Nature.  And stay at the Four Seasons Hotel in Maui.  Now this one we might be able to make happen if we start saving our pennies now.  Time to cut out all emotional spending immediately !

Amazing !  I have to go and see this for myself.

4.  A New Blog.
Yes !  I have an idea for a new blog.  Something to do with women's history, their place in society and how society has viewed them through the ages.  I'm not going to give up writing The Cancer Culture Chronicles, but I do want to expand my writing interests beyond the world of breast cancer, and what better way than to indulge my amateur sociological fascination with a novel, interesting and hopefully interactive blog dealing with this very topic.  I won't say any more than that until I'm ready to debut it, so please watch this space.

Yes I Can ! Watch This Space !

So now that I've shared my current list with you, I'm going to take a cue from the lovely and talented Nancy Stordahl who writes an excellent blog entitled Nancy's Point, and ask you a question.  I'd be thrilled to hear your answers.

What's on your list of things that you want to make happen or are looking forward to ?

Saturday, November 27, 2010

The Time For Answers Is Now

I've been watching with interest the cyberspace debate sparked by Peggy Orenstein's article,  "Think About Pink", recently published in the New York Times.  Ms Orenstein's article, a sharp, insightful, and to some, controversial critique of the "pinking" of the world of breast cancer, is, in my opinion, part of a wider and growing backlash to the fundamental "awareness" messages being promoted by the mainstream breast cancer cause movement.  Indeed, in summarizing her views Ms Orenstein states:
"By making consumers feel good without actually doing anything meaningful, it discourages understanding, undermining the search for better detection, safer treatments, causes and cures for a disease that still afflicts 250,000 women annually (and speaking of figures, the number who die has remained unchanged — hovering around 40,000 — for more than a decade)."
To me, Ms Orentein neatly articulates the frustration that many are feeling that,  despite billions of dollars being raised in the name of breast cancer "awareness" from a fundraising movement that started to really gain traction in the early 1990's, treatment regimens although prevalent are of uncertain efficacy and invariably debilitating in their side-effects, agreement on appropriate detection methods for different ages and ethnicities remains fragmented,  and that even today mortality rates from this disease have not significantly decreased, particularly for non-Caucasian women.  (See National Cancer Institute fact sheet).

For me, this particular discussion has seemed painfully real in dealing with my own case over the last few weeks.  I have failed The pharmaceutical companies have failed yet again to produce a drug that will keep my cancer from growing.  So now I am faced with another round of new options, of which quite frankly, none are particularly appealing.  (I know that's a weird statement, but it's all relative in chemotherapy world).  Previously we have had, what appeared to me, to be a fairly well-laid out plan of proscribed chemotherapy options, with measurable milestones, and a reasonable certainty that my quality of life would be tolerable.  It always felt like a workable plan, with plenty of built-in hope and was generally a fairly smooth conversation.

But this time, the discussion with my doctor was different because it seems now we are in murkier waters due to my response, or lack thereof, to the chemo drugs tried so far.  Although I am, thankfully, not without options by any means,  the conversation this time around went something like this. (I'm simplifying for brevity-sake obviously but this will give you the flavor):

DrWonderWoman ("DrWW"): "You have Option A, B, C (which has sub-options) and D.  Options A and B are clinical trials.  Option A is only available in City X (4 hours away)  which I think I can get you into,  and Option B is here although it's randomized and you're allergic to the alternative control chemo which could be a problem.  Options C and D are already available.  Oh and this is what they will all do to you, blah, blah, blah......".

Me:  "And how long will I be on each option?"

DrWW:  "Indefinitely"

Me:  "What do you think is the best course?"

DrWW:  "There is no right answer"

Me:  "How do WE make a decision?"

DrWW:  "There is no right answer? You need to go and research and think about it"

Me:  "How do I do that ?  Last time I checked I didn't have a medical degree"

DrWW:  "There is no right answer"

Me:  "Well is there a particular option that you are leaning towards based on gut feeling and the fact that you have studied oncology medicine ?"

DrWW:  "There is no right answer"

Me:  "So you're telling me that the decision is completely mine ?  Well why do I need you ?"

DrWW:  "There is no right answer"

[This goes on back and forth for about another 20 minutes or so and then I ask.....]

Me:  "Why aren't you giving me any further guidance ?  Is this because you are afraid of a malpractice suit if you tell me the "wrong" thing ?"

DrWW:  "No,  but there is no right answer"

Me:  "Ok, but I would hope that given our history together, going on seven years now, that if I came to you and told you what options I had decided on, that if you felt strongly that I hadn't picked what you would have picked if it were you, that you would tell me.  Is that a fair question?"

DrWW: "Yes, but there is no right answer"

Me:  "Please.......give me something here"

DrWW: "There's no right answer...........but I think you need a taxane in your very near future"

Can Anyone Throw Me A Line ?

Whew!  If I ever felt a situation deserved a cliched metaphor in describing how I felt during this conversation, then this would be it so here goes.  Imagine being cast adrift in a shark-infested ocean, in a leaky boat, with no map or compass, with a cruelly vague sense that land is out there, but absolutely no clue how to move the boat forward or get to the land.  That about sums up how I feel right now.

The fact that I (and so many others) find ourselves in this and even worse situations is what makes me so flipping mad.

All of this money, all of this "awareness" and all of this pink.

And there is "no right answer".

How can this be ?

Thursday, November 25, 2010

Is Cancer The New Normal ?

I'm on a lovely vacation this week and have been catching up on all of my reading, sun worshipping (yes,yes..with SPF70) and partying like it's 1985. Well what's a girl to do when she's on a little break from treatment as she ponders the next step ? Drink a lot of mojitos and spend a lot of time not actually making a decision about what to do next. But that's the subject of another post soon to come. So let's get back to this one.

I was reading an excellent book review entitled "Cancer World" by Steven Shapin in The New Yorker of "The Emperor of All Maladies: A Biography of Cancer" by Siddhartha Mukherjee. A very comprehensive and well-written review and I highly recommend you read it. After you have read this post, obviously. But it was Shapin's last paragraph that really struck me and got my old brain ticking over. He writes:

"...."Cancer, my new normal". A world in which cancer is normalized as a manageable chronic condition would be a wonderful thing, but a risk-factor world in which we all think of ourselves as precancerous would not. It might decrease the incidence of some forms of malignancy while hugely increasing the numbers of healthy people under medical treatment. It would be a strange victory in which the price to be paid for checking the spread of cancer through the body is its uncontrolled spread through the culture."

Well dear readers, I don't know about you, but it already feels like this has happened in the world of breast cancer. So many times I hear breast cancer being talked of as though it's a chronic disease (even though the dirty little secret is that it isn't) and the pervasive culture that exists around breast cancer is one that seems to promote normalization with the unintended consequence of desensitizing the masses to the seriousness of the disease. The hope for a cure or prevention entirely is shrouded by the vagaries of yet more "awareness" campaigns and more incremental drugs whose success is judged on how much time they buy, not eradication.

And certainly in breast cancer parlance I hear a lot of talk about the "new normal" and the importance of finding your "new normal". You can find plenty of information on this topic by simply running an Internet search. Now quite frankly, most of the websites that I found covering this particular topic are of the type that make me feel like I'm sitting in a darkened room on a floor-ful of sequined cushions listening to a New Age therapist with flowing grey hair named Dandelion making ohm-like soothing noises whilst simultaneously cleansing my aura and negative cancerous energy with her toolkit of polished rocks masquerading as healing crystals.

Apparently, according to an example of a Dandelionesque website......

"The search for what is your "new” normal is the culmination of your breast cancer experience. It can define your identity and the path you take on your journey to recovery. It becomes a chance for you to make some choices and take charge of how your life goes while you're in the recovery process."

Pardon me, but this almost sounds like something I'd want to buy tickets to. And invite my friend Deidra who's always looking for new positive life-affirming experiences.

But then Dandelion's tone takes on a slightly more ominous tone. Ah yes, the metastatic breast cancer "survivor". Not much to be said for these poor unfortunates except this:

"However, if you are a survivor living with metastatic breast cancer, “new” normal has a whole other meaning. It’s about adjusting to living with cancer every day, managing your ongoing treatment and maintaining your quality of life. And, unfortunately, a “new” normal in this case isn’t always as positive as it is for a survivor who has completed treatment."

Quite right Dandelion, metastatic breast cancer does suck, (this is exactly what Dandelion said but I said it much more succinctly), but please just remind me again, what is it that we have survived ? And should we really be even trying to apply the term "normal" to the ordeal of living with metastatic cancer, Dandelion ? Because let's face it, there's nothing about it that even resembles a little bit about what I remember as being normal. But hey, if it makes everyone else feel better then go right ahead.

After trying valiantly to convince herself that the experience of living and coping with metastatic breast cancer can be magically transformed into normalcy, Dandelion starts feeling a major downer coming on. And so she reaches for the uppers. In this case her drug of choice is the intertwining of the "new normal" and "survivor identity" concepts.

After snorting her feel-good cocktail of cancer cliche', Dandelion leaves us with this uplifting thought:

"Defining your “new” normal and your survivor identity are synonymous. They both can open up a world of opportunities if you embrace it."

Really Dandelion ? A world of opportunities ? Embrace it ? Let me just think on that a little more as I embark on yet another round of questionable chemotherapy, contemplate being bald and sick for the rest of my life, and am left wondering what happened to my world of opportunities after breast cancer rudely barged into my life.

But seriously Dandelion. Let me just say this. There is nothing new or normal about having cancer. And we better start embracing this notion very soon, or I fear the result as predicted by Shapin's book review. That cancer just becomes an acceptable part of our culture. And that's not my idea of normal.

Monday, November 15, 2010

Boobies Vs Breasts. Coming to A Supreme Court Near You.

Well I predicted it.  This just in from the breast cancer newswires:  School's "Boobie" Bracelet Ban Draws Suit.  Essentially two middle school kids aged 12 and 13 respectively are suing a school district in Easton, Pa., after they were suspended for wearing the popular "I (heart) boobies!" bracelets, claiming that such a ban violates their right to freedom of speech under the First Amendment of the U.S. Constitution.  

I blogged about this particular campaign back in May of this year, in a post entitled "Boobs:  What's Not To Love".   At the time I had this to say:

"With that said, this snippet just in from the breast cancer news wires. Yes folks the breast cancer marketing cause has gone all hip and trendy with the high school kids now wearing all manner of merchandise emblazoned with the slogan "I Love Boobies", as part of a breast cancer awareness effort amongst the youth culture by something called the Keep-A-Breast foundation. As recently reported in the Seattle Times, apparently certain high schools are starting to get a bit concerned about the clothing items and their flagrant use and depiction of the term "boobies" claiming that it's leading to conduct unbecoming of their teenage students. And being part of the great democracy that is the U.S.A, of course the banning of such items being worn at school is not about causing offense or being inappropriate but a limit of freedom of expression under the Constitution, the extent to which will no doubt be tested in the Supreme Court by some spotty 16 year old and their over-indulgent parents.
Ho hum, where does one start with this ?
First of all, I go back to my point from this and other posts that Breast Cancer itself, is a highly marketable cause because of it's sex appeal. It's about boobs. Teenagers are obsessed with fashion and boobs. Edgy clothing with the word boobs to appeal to the younger generation ? Genius. Do you think we would ever see a similar campaign for Colon Cancer ? T-shirts with "I Love Small Intestines" ? Or Bladder Cancer ? Bracelets with "I Love Urine", Anal Cancer ? "I Love Ass" ? Doesn't have quite the same cache' now does it.
Secondly. I love boobs as well. At least I loved the ones that I used to have before they became cancerous and had to be surgically removed and rebuilt from other bits of my body and artfully placed lumps of silicone. Does it help me to see some fashion victim teenager parading around with a t-shirt/bracelet/bag emblazoned with "I Love Boobies" all in the name of "breast cancer awareness" and "freedom of expression" fashion, just to remind me of everything that I once loved and then lost because of an insidious and awful disease that struck me without warning ?" 
 Now call me crazy,  but is anyone who's a party to this lawsuit taking a step back and considering how much this is all going to cost  ?   Time, effort, actual dollars ? Does anyone think this time, effort,  and actual dollars wouldn't  be better spent actually trying to eradicate breast cancer, rather than paying for more plastic bracelets to be manufactured to  pollute the earth a little bit more ? And for what gain ?  So the kids can keep wearing their fashionable little bracelets, someone can keep profiting from their sale, and we can continue to perpetuate the myth that this is all done in the name of breast cancer awareness and   First Amendment  rights to free speech.  

I don't know about you but I can't wait to hear what the arguments are in this particular case.  Who's going to testify ?  Are we going to hear from anyone for whom breast cancer is a terrifying reality,  an experience made even worse by ridiculous and offensive campaigns such as these ?  Are they going to debate the appropriateness of the term "boobies" ?  Will the term's relative merits be compared and ranked alongside "titties", "hooters", "ta-ta's, "funbags", "bazoombas", etc ?  Does anyone even care that the real term is "breast" and that using the term "boobies" to supposedly signify breast cancer awareness, is just another way that this disease is trivialized, sexualized and infantilized by the use of silly memes ?  

And you know that as a result of of this lawsuit there's going to be a big payout.  Money will shift from the school district who, by the way, are in the business of educating the next generation, to where pray tell ?  

So now I think I've seen it all.  Not a lawsuit to charge the corporations still pumping carcinogenic materials into our environment.  Not a lawsuit to hold any of the pinkwashers accountable for their labeling of products with a pink-ribbon, despite selling the very products that contribute to breast cancer risk.  Nope.  The world's greatest democracy is going to debate the merits of the term "boobies".  

And with that dear readers, my hopes for meaningful change in the breast cancer movement just went out the window.

Sunday, November 14, 2010

The Gift of Breast Cancer? I'd Like A Refund.

"I would never wish cancer on anyone. But I wouldn't give back the experience either."
"You are forced to either look upon the experience as a curse, or a lesson in life/challenge to learn from and grow from. Ie., a "blessing"!"

These are real quotes sourced from comments posted to an article written by Eve Ensler (author of The Vagina Monologues) entitled, The Gift Of Cancer.  That's right. The. Gift. Of. Cancer.  Gift. Cancer.  Really ?  These are not words that I would ever wish to see in the same sentence. Ever. And yet, I seem to be surrounded by this kind of sentiment.

Are there people out there who actually see cancer as a gift ?  An experience they would never give back ? A blessing ? Are people now drinking the chemo ?

This week I had plenty of opportunity to ponder my own particular gift and associated blessings. As I was injected with another vile vial of radioactive goop by Nurse I-Couldn't-Hit-A-Vein-If-My-Life-Depended-On-It, so that my entire body could be scanned for more Breastmas-Tree-like lights whilst lying perfectly still in a dirt-nap state in a machine that is strangely reminiscent of lying in a coffin.  (Now, not personally knowing any vampires outside of Sookie and the gang from True Blood, I can't attest to the accuracy of this statement, but I think the only difference might be that the occupant of said machine has a pulse).  Anyway, before I launch into a dull tirade on the indignities of the whole PET/CT scan thing, let me get back to the point of this post.

From a sociocultural perspective, much of what I see and hear in the media regarding the breast cancer "experience" seems to carry with it an aura of calm, peaceful reflection and contemplation.  One could be forgiven for thinking that breast cancer is simply a journey on a well-trodden path that begins with a test of marathon endurance and ends with tangible feelings of achievement, clarity and purpose for the newly minted heroic Survivor.  In an almost graceful state of being, the triumphant Survivor peels back the veneer of her previous  existence to transform into a new and better person filled with wisdom and experiences, feeling eternally grateful and a saintly duty to repay the favors of her life and bestow the gifts of her cancer journey on the world around her.     Epiphanic sentiment abounds.   Transcendent survivorship seems to be the modus operandi in today's breast cancer culture.

And maybe this is exactly  how it is for many who have been through the breast cancer "experience", and I'm not saying that this is wrong.  Everybody has their own reality.  But it is the popular public notion of how a person dealing with breast cancer is imagined to be that I have a problem with. Because when you get to the point where breast cancer is  with you 24/7, with no end-game in sight as far as treatment is concerned,  and the relentless advancing of your disease no matter what you do, the concept of transcendent survivorship is a bitter pill to try and swallow.  In fact, I find it downright alienating.

Gayle Sulik in her recently published tome, Pink Ribbon Blues: How Breast Cancer Culture Undermines Women's Health, expounds on these popular notions of Survivorship and indeed proposes the"feeling rules of breast cancer survivorship" as an overarching social framework within the context of breast cancer culture.  Ms Sulik writes:
"Feeling Rule 1:  Survivorship requires a strong sense of optimism in terms of hope, faith, and transcendence.
Feeling Rule 2: Survivorship necessitates selfishness, which is constructed in masculine terms as a rational coping strategy or as a confession of gender violations related to women's nurturance and selflessness.
Feeling Rule 3: Guilt results from the stigma associated with failing to present oneself adequately as a she-roic survivor, losing bodily integrity, or disrupting gender roles."
.......The feeling rules of breast cancer survivorship empower and constrain throughout the breast cancer experience, and within women's particular circumstances..........the rules contribute to a "balancing act" as women try to carve out their own mode of survivorship and establish equilibrium between their needs and the needs of others."
Exactly right.  No wonder I feel the way I do.  Honestly,  having cancer has left me with nothing but a gnawing sense of what might have been and what definitely won't be.  It has forced me to confront a whole bunch of crap that, quite frankly, I could have done without.  My life was just fine before cancer rudely barged in and now that I'm just living with it and trying to accept that this is just the way it's going to be,  I certainly don't feel like I'm transcending and morphing into a higher being.  I'm just getting on with it the best way I know how.

The Gift of Breast Cancer.
It doesn't fit. Can I return it ?
For me at least,  terming any part of the cancer experience as a gift or a blessing just seems plain wrong.  Okay I probably do have a greater appreciation for life's simple pleasures and I'm certainly a more compassionate and thinking human being, but I don't see any of this as a gift or a blessing.  A gift is something that makes you feel a bit special and comes without any strings attached.  Cancer takes away so much more than can ever be imagined, and to try and portray this otherwise by putting a positive spin on any part of the experience is what, I believe, is being perpetuated by the pinking of the breast cancer realm.   Isn't what we go through invalidated by using the words like "gift" and "blessing" in the same sentence as cancer? Describing any part of the experience of cancer with terms such as these, boxes up the truth with a pretty pink ribbon to be neatly filed away under "Positive Life-Affirming Experiences" or something similar.  I don't care if the experience of breast cancer causes you to morph into the next Mother Theresa, the fact remains that nothing, nada, zilch can ever be enough to compensate for what is lost to breast cancer. It's an evil curse and I don't intend to ever see it any other way.

Is it shocking to you in reading this that I sound so angry and bitter ?  Yes ?  Why ?  Because this is the myth of populist "survivorship".  It is not everybody's reality.  Doesn't anger just make me human?     So what does all this mean ?  I don't know, but I'm sure as hell not going to give up being angry that this happened to me, and I'm sure as hell not going to give up writing about it.  In fact I would say that feeling angry is a good thing.  At least for me.  It feeds the fire.   My people will just have to deal with it.

After all, I am.

Wednesday, November 3, 2010

Putting the Breast Back in Christmas

Thank goodness Pinktober is over and we can start getting back to some normality around here.  I love November, excuse me Movember, which is the best excuse I can think of for not having to wax my upper lip this month.  Yay men's health and yay support and attention for cancer's other than breast !

It will be interesting to watch how this particular campaign continues to develop.    Not to turn this into a boys (Mo's)-vs-girls (Pink's)-schoolyard scrap, but I'm sure, like anything inherently good, the corporate commercialization vultures will soon be circling around another worthy cause looking for any excuse to appear benevolent and raise profits at the same time.   After all, mustaches are a cute, funny and somewhat sexy way to symbolize men's cancers without all the gory details,  and the global Movember campaign appears to be successful so far in capturing the public's imagination.  Corporate marketers dream written all over it.  Good luck to you guys.  I hope you're able to keep control of the message, evolve it when you need to, maximize the $ raised, and use those $ for game-changing results in the fight against men's cancer.  Oh and do try to keep your domain a Mustache-Washed Free Zone. The capitalists will try anything.  Watch this space.

Moving right along, when I started writing this blog back in 2009, I didn't really know how it would grow, whether it would flourish,  nor exactly what my focus would be.  I just wanted to write.  I also hoped to make some comment on my perception of the culture of breast cancer.  Because it really does exist.  In the beginning, I worried that I would run out of things to write about.  But, fortunately, I live in the Pink Asylum run by the idiot-savant Pinkatics who give me plenty of material to ponder and share with my dear readers.

Now it being November Movember and all, it's about the time of year that I start thinking about Christmas.  Yes, despite no apparent religious affiliations and a positively atheistically-pleasing upbringing, I like to celebrate Christmas.  Not "Holidays". Christmas.  Even though God and I are not really on speaking terms right now, despite my agnostic Catholic husband's protestations that "they might be right" and "you might end up in hell if  you don't get baptized so do it just in case", I still like to celebrate the Son of God's birthday. And I like to go all out.  Big-ass Christmas tree, cheesy nativity scenes, non-matching decorations, 24/7 carols from December 1 on, egg-nog, drunken fruity Christmas cake,   shortbread, gaily-wrapped presents, Christmas cards strung over the fireplace, inside and outside lights as bright as Las Vegas, you name it I'm doing it. I love it !!!

Do you know where I'm going this ?

Well dear readers, I put it to you, that we don't have to limit our celebration of all things breast cancer to just PinkTober.  Let's put the "Breast" back in Christmas, I say.  Because nothing screams festive like breast cancer at Christmastime now does it ?  Behold, my 2010 Christmas Breastmas to-do list.


1. Send Breastmas cards. Message to read:  Dear X,  Just in case you forgot that I have Breast Cancer and you don't , please send me a really big gift. Merry Breastmas !  Love Anna

I found much tackier examples, but couldn't
figure out how to copy them.

2. Write letters to Santa Claus Cause.  Mine will say this.  Dear Santa Cause,  I know I must have been very naughty back in 2004 which is why I got breast cancer, but since then I've been really nice.  I know it might not exist but could you just bring me something that isn't pink and breast-cancer themed.  Love Anna.
Santa Cause.  Bringing
festive cheer and breast cancer
into your home this yuletide season.
3. Purchase Breastmas Tree.  (Click here for a better look at all 6.5 feet of this beauty).
As the Facebook targeted ad said: "Celebrate the season of hope
with pink-ribbon pizazz in this breast cancer support
pre-decorated pull up Christmas tree."

Pink-Ribbon Pizazz ???? Because that's definitely what my house needs
Season of Hope ????? I like Breastmas so much more.

Hang this and no one will ever forget.
And if they do you'll kick their ass.

4. Trim Breastmas Tree with tasteful Breastmas breast cancer ornaments.  
I might do my whole tree in these.
Good, honest, old-fashioned festive cheer.
So poignant.  Have fun explaining the
irony of this one to the kiddies.
Crafters Tip: If you can't afford to buy these delightful ornaments why not go all Martha Stewart and recycle those PET scan films that you've been hiding in your attic.  Just cut out circular discs (try and include the actual tumor pictures for more decorative flair), punch a hole in the top, thread through a skein of pink ribbon, and there you have it.  A real family heirloom to treasure and hang on your tree year after year.

5.  Link arms around beautifully decorated Breastmas Tree and joyfully sing this Breastmas carol.  But not before you've paid me a royalty which I will not be donating to Breast Cancer research:

We wish you a merry Breastmas
We wish you a merry Breastmas
We wish you a merry Breastmas
And a Cancer-Free New Year !

So ?  Did I go too far ?  Well maybe on the Breastmas carol, but I couldn't control myself.  But seriously. Are you hearing me Movember organizers ? People, I can't make this stuff up.  This is where we are and you don't want to be here. It's a scary ridiculous place. Please let this insanity stop.

Merry Breastmas.

EDITOR'S NOTE:  It seems I did miss one important item.  Thank's Gayle Sulik !

Don't forget to thank the pink Son of God for all my Breastmas blessings