Sunday, October 31, 2010

Pink October May Be Over, But I'm Just Getting Started...

As this month of October draws to a close and I emerge out from under my rock into the rapidly receding pink haze, I thought I would put fingers to keyboard and let you know what caught my attention over this last crazy month.

First of all, those ridiculous Facebook meme's, all in the name of Breast Cancer Awareness.  "I Like It on The Floor....", "What color is your bra", and this particular Facebook status update:
"Every person has 1000 wishes. A cancer patient only has one: to get better. I know that 97%    will not post this as their status, but i Know that most of my friends will be one of the 3% to put this as their status, at least for an hour, in honor of those who died because of cancer or are .........still fighting it."
I really enjoyed reading this one every morning when I logged in, which reminded me that; a) I have cancer;  b) apparently I have no other wish than to get better, which is strange because I also want a vintage red Karmann Ghia, a tiny house, and another dog so this statistic just can't be right ! ; and c) 97% of my so-called friends won't even honor me by putting this on their status for at least an hour.  Wow tough crowd.  If it wasn't bad enough having cancer in the first place. [Now before I lose too many readers here I apologize if you did in fact post one of these things on your status and my protest offends you, but honestly they're just dumb so please stop].

Moving right along, there were many wonderfully smart and sassy posts as to what all this Breast Cancer Awareness really means.

I met Breast Cancer Barbie via ChemoBabe ,  and read things like:
"So what should awareness mean? Nobody will convince me of a connection between buying pink ribbon potato chips and knowing the symptoms of breast cancer or your personal risk"

And then this amazingly insightful post by Tamera Shanker on Think Before you Pink Blog, excerpt reproduced here:
"It wasn’t until I was blind-sided with a diagnosis of breast cancer this summer that I became aware of the breadth of my ignorance. There was, and still is, so much that I did not know about the disease and its treatment. And, none of the information I received over the last 15 years of my “pink” involvement ever even hinted at the depths of my naivete."
Gayle Sulik, noted medical sociologist,  published her book, Pink Ribbon Blues, a study of how the culture of pink ribbons is ultimately affecting women's health and a sharp and insightful critique of the current pink awareness campaigns.  On the other side of this important debate, we also heard from Nancy G. Brinker, sister of the now-famous Susan G. Komen and head of the charitable behemoth Susan G. Komen For the Cure, and her story Promise Me reviewed here, with Ms Sulik's book, in the New York Times.  I've read Ms Sulik's book which I highly recommend, but not Ms Brinker's.  I guess it would be fair to read Ms Brinker's book before I launch into any tirades about my perceptions of the Komenesque breast cancer awareness message, so I'll leave that for another day.

2005: Me And my best friend, before
we became completely jaded.
There was also much lively debate on the labelling that goes on within the breast cancer realm. Of particular interest to me were the uses of the terms "Previvors" and "Survivors".  The breast cancer community themselves seem to be quite divided on whether these terms should be embraced or not and whether they are helpful to the "cause", but I found the following articles to be interesting additions to the debate nonetheless and have included my two cents worth for good measure.  [Full Disclosure:  I used to be a "Survivor" poster child and even have a picture to prove it.  Let's just say compared to where I was then (joyous to have completed initial treatment in 2004) to now (still in treatment 6.5 years later ), I'm over it !] 

Elaine Schattner on "Who's a Survivor?" and my posted comment:
"This is a really great article. I must admit I'm a bit sick of all the "cancer catchphrases" that are floating around, "survivor" being one of them. I think it's part of the culture of hero-worship that we, as a society are so quick to embrace. Personally, I don't feel like I'm heroic in any sense of the word, and there are days where I feel like I'm barely "surviving". Mostly I'm just dealing with the very big pile of BS that life served me up, and doing it the best way I know how. If people find that inspiring, great, but I'm not doing it for anybody else. The danger of putting "survivorship" on the pedestal where it is currently, is that if I'm not putting on my "survivor" ra-ra strong happy face, then apparently I have given up hope. Well I haven't given up hope, but I refuse to say I've survived breast cancer, until I've actually survived breast cancer. I like to keep things real in this case."

And Dina Roth Port on "Previvors: The Fight of Those At High Risk For Cancer" and my posted comment:
I agree with you that the "Us vs them" thing has to stop if we are to present a united front in the fight to end this disease. However I do take issue with our seemingly constant need to try and label individual experiences within the breast cancer realm. As a person living with Stage IV metastatic breast cancer at the ripe old age of 40, I personally find these labels to be somewhat divisive and to try and simplify the experience with a catchy label just doesn't speak to everyone's story. The ugly truth about breast cancer is there is no one size fits all approach. The terms "previvor" and "survivor" are undoubtedly meaningful to those who have actually gotten through it and they do tend to be used to outwardly display one's achievement against the cancerous beast (and rightly so, if you are fortunate enough to have beaten the beast into submission). But from my perspective, the terms are another reminder of an achievement that moves a little bit further to the outer limits of possibility as each day goes by without anything that will make a difference to my outcome. For what it's worth, I did find out that I was BRCA1+ after I was initially diagnosed, despite no family history, and I wish I would have known before and had the chance to have done something about it.
In her blog post entitled "Remembrance", Gayle Sulik discusses the current visibility of breast cancer in today's culture, and how it has changed with the advent of the pink-ribbon movement.

This IS Breast Cancer
This is NOT Breast Cancer
Along similar lines, the Jezebel blog ran this story, SCAR Project Exposes the Realities of Breast Cancer.   Most of the commentary I saw was supportive of the models and their decision to be photographed, although I did see some dissension and hand-wringing as to whether the the photos were just another form of exploitation of these young women's breast cancer experience. Personally I applaud their decision to be involved in the project.  More power to them.  Too much of what we see in today's breast cancer culture is pink, pretty and all ra-ra-ra and the actual experience is lost on many behind all the pinked-out imagery, hoopla and pageantry.  Photographer David Jay's photos included in  The Scar Project are harrowing indeed and clearly show the raw, painful, and horrific reality for many members of the breast cancer community.    They are images that are not soon forgotten to be sure.  

Against the backdrop of pink ribbons, and the cacophony of breast-cancer-awareness-saves-lives type messages, the social networks and blogs were alive with commentators fighting against the tide to move the message from simply being one of awareness, to a movement of prevention with a focus on the environmental causes of cancer.  The Breast Cancer Fund, and The National Breast Cancer Coalition's 2020 deadline are larger scale examples of how the focus for research and advocacy is slowly shifting with the recognition that if prevention is the focus, the need for a cure becomes obsolete (except I would still like a cure, given I already have it).  There are also plenty of grassroots efforts like the Cinco Vidas blog, not to mention the continuing good works of Breast Cancer Action in this arena.

Alongside the environmental debate comes the term "pinkwashing", a term used to describe the activities of companies and groups that position themselves as leaders in the struggle to eradicate breast cancer while engaging in practices that may be contributing to rising rates of the disease. Cosmetic companies, vehicle manufacturers and fast food purveyors are some of the more notable examples of this phenomenon in the last year.  Once again Breast Cancer Action, with their "Think Before You Pink" campaign has been a leading voice in the struggle to expose the more egregious examples of pinkwashing, like Kentucky Fried Chicken's partnership with Susan G. Komen For the Cure earlier this year.  Komen themselves have increasingly come under fire by many within the breast cancer community with their apparent limitless efforts to raise money for their "breast cancer awareness" messages by pairing with many big business names, for whom breast cancer has become the cause célèbre and, in turn, a canny way to increased profits.  See the attached article in the Huffington Post on the Komen furor, and this comment by Ann who writes the excellent "Breast Cancer...But Doctor I Hate Pink" blog.
"I'm a breast cancer patient who has been in treatment for a year. My BC humor blog, http://but doctorihat has gained enough readers so advertisers contact me. This month has been a real eye-opener. I've been approached by dozens of companies, all wanting me to promote their products, with minuscule proceeds going to Komen. My disease is not a marketing opportunity, and it's appalling that Koman has turned breast cancer into some sort of pink marketing party. They accept money from companies whose products actually cause cancer. I was neutral before but I'm now against cause marketing as promoted by Koman, as are many other BC patients. If we are to have a month dedicated to a disease, we should have a month dedicated to ALL cancers. And, charities like Komen should forgo "awareness" (who isn't aware of breast cancer by now?) and give everything to research. As far as I can tell, Stand up to Cancer is a much better organization and I suggest everybody forget the pink and give to them directly and not through useless purchases."

Rather than flying pink ribbons and hanging out in Survivor Tents at fundraising walks, this year I decided to spend October earnestly writing my blog, educating myself about the history of breast cancer and the associated "cause" movements, and inserting myself into the dialogue throughout all of the social networks like Blogger, Twitter, Facebook, as well as many online current affairs publications.  What I discovered was a tight community of like-minded, welcoming, sassy, humorous, intelligent, activist women who continue to open my eyes to the pulse of today's movement but also the possibility and hope of where all this dialogue may lead.  And that is, an end to breast cancer.

In writing this post, I'm sure there were other things that caught my attention which I've neglected to include, but in describing what I felt in exploring the breast cancer cyberworld over this last month, the words of Nancy Koehn in writing The Mental Game of Breast Cancer  really resonate;
"...women must continue to pass on their strength, insights, and experience about the mental game of breast cancer to other women through largely informal networks--conversations, blogs, and email. And this "underground railroad" of support will keep on rollin' on the fuel of collective caring and respect for the entire experience of having breast cancer."
Amen to that.


  1. Anna, Lots of "meaty" stuff in this post to think about. Nice job summing up Pink October. I think we are all glad it's behind us. Thanks for all the good quotes providing additional food for thought. (why do I have these food references??)

  2. Thanks for your comment Nancy...let's see what the next 11 months brings....


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